Most over- and under-rated degree courses

More than two million Australians, or 9% of the total population, are enrolled in formal study beyond the school years, and nearly eight million aged between 25 and 64 – representing 67% of the population – have a post-secondary qualification, up from 54% a decade ago.

A report by the McCrindle Research organisation says 2014 marks the first year of 'Generation Z', those born since 1995 and now entering university.

“They are the most digitally supplied, globally connected and formally educated generation in history. They not only have more institutions to consider – from traditional universities to private colleges – but more ways to study, from on-campus to online, and more course options than ever before,” the report states.

It sets out what the McCrindle researchers claim to be Australia’s top four “over-rated and under-rated” areas of study. The report says the most over-rated degree at the bachelor level is psychology with only 40% of graduates who are career-ready and available for full-time employment actually in a job requiring their expertise.

Of those graduates employed full-time fewer than two in three are working in the field of psychology and of those who are, start off on a median salary of A$47,500 (US$41,600) – well below the average starting salary of A$50,000.

Similarly, the visual and performing arts are highly over-rated in terms of job prospects and starting salaries. Of graduates in this field, only half of those with jobs are employed in the field and 47% would like to work full-time.

Graduates in architecture are similarly challenged to find jobs in their field, with 42% available for full-time work. Those who are employed full-time as architects begin with a measly median starting salary of A$32,500.

Fourth among the most over-rated degrees are the social sciences: here 49% of new graduates are looking for full-time work in the field and 60% of those with full-time jobs are actually practising what they had learned at university. But again the median starting salary for social scientists is A$45,000.

The McCrindle researchers say that the majority of graduates in these four fields are not career-ready in that they require further study, more qualifications or registration by a professional body before they can gain full-time work. Likewise, each of the fields offer graduates starting salaries below the national average for a graduate.

According to the report, the top four “most under-rated degrees” were surveying, urban and regional planning, rehabilitation and electrical engineering. In each case, more than 80% of graduates with bachelor degrees were working in their field of study and each provided salaries above the national A$50,000 graduate average.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle said Australia’s population growth was creating a need for more homes and the redevelopment of existing urban centres. This had created a planning and construction boom that created opportunities for graduates in the relevant fields.

“The boom has facilitated surveying, urban planning and engineering to be rated in the top four courses based on a combination of employment, earnings and analysis,” McCrindle said.