The latest issue of ABS Education and Work, out today, shows that we are charging towards Julia Gillard’s target of 40% of 25-34 year olds having a university qualification by 2025. Only last May, the government’s higher education policy document said:
The current attainment rate for bachelor degrees for 25 to 34 year olds stands at around 32 per cent, and under current policy settings this is likely to rise only slightly, to around 34 per cent by 2025.
But Education and Work says that we had reached 34% (34.6%, to be precise) as those words were being published. There could be some sampling error involved, but the combined effects of more educated younger cohorts aging, continued mature-age education, and a large migration program heavily biased in favour of graduates means that a reasonably strong growth rate was always likely. If government forecasters using 2008 data can’t predict what will happen in 2009, what hope have they of being right about 2025?
Education and Work also brings bad news for the argument that we are very short of graduates and must produce lots more. Last year, 26.3% of graduates with jobs were working in occupations that did not require a degree. This year, it has gone up to 27.4%. Graduate unemployment has gone up from 2.1% to 3.4%. Admittedly, 2008-09 was not a good period for the labour market overall. But if the boom years up to 2008 couldn’t do much to utilise our graduates better, it suggests our policymakers should be cautious about promoting a large expansion in university enrolment.