In the latest issue of People and Place, as reported in this morning’s papers, Monash University academic Bob Birrell and his colleagues Daniel Edwards and Ian Dobson argue that there is a widening gap between the demand for and supply of university graduates.
In doing so, they disagree in part with the analysis in my paper (pdf) on graduate mismatch. One explanation they offer for the number of graduates in non-graduate jobs I explored and decided was probably not major – the possibility that it is driven by women framing work around family. Female overqualification (20%) is only slightly higher than male (18%), and there are other possible explanations such as the over-representation of women in Arts courses.
They do however raise one point that I should have explored more, which is what role migration of graduates has played in boosting numbers of university-qualified people in jobs that don’t require degrees. There is, as they say, a history of migrants having trouble finding jobs matching their formal education.
Nevertheless, I don’t think they deal with central argument: that there is no evidence anywhere in the labour market data of an aggregate shortage of graduates. In 2006, there were more than 500,000 graduates in jobs that don’t require degrees or unemployed.
In 2006, my calculation from ABS Education and Work is that 95,000 graduates found professional, associate professional, and managerial jobs – those jobs normally classified as ‘graduate’ (though associate professional is a mixed category, which the ABS is discontinuing).
Yet DEST’s completions data showed that there were nearly 108,000 domestic bachelor degree graduations for the proceeding year. So even in an exceptionally strong labour market, and even before taking migration into account, we produced 13,000 more graduates than the labour market required.
Of course not all graduates go directly in the Australian labour force – some continue with their studies, some go overseas, etc. But Education and Work suggests that 148,000 graduates were added to the workforce, which would be a mix of recent graduates, people rejoining the labour force, migrants, and Australians returning from overseas.
The net result, as in most years, was that the pool of graduates in non-graduate jobs increased, though it is fairly stable as a percentage.
The key problem is not total numbers. It is that we don’t have an effective system for allocating students to courses for which there is strong labour market demand. That, as my paper argued, is primarily the fault of Commonwealth central control. In most of the areas of labour market shortage, there was plenty of demand for university places, but no capacity to respond to that demand.