December 5, 2023

Full-time working non-Australians studying university courses earned an average of AUS$60,000 in 2022 compared to AUS$68,000 for Australians. According to the 2022 International Graduate Achievement Survey, the pay gap was less pronounced than in 2021, when the difference between the two groups was AUS$10,700.

Research funded by the Department for Education, which tracked students’ employment outcomes around four to six months after graduation, found that studying at postgraduate level did not increase earnings among international graduates compared to those who completed undergraduate courses.

In contrast, domestic students with postgraduate qualifications earned AUS$23,600 more on average.

Almost 60% of international students who completed university courses in Australia were employed full-time up to six months after graduation in 2022, but international students still experience much lower employment rates when seeking postgraduate work in Australia and beyond.

Almost 80% of domestic students who studied at the bachelor’s degree were in full-time employment. While the gap remained, as with salaries, the gap between cohorts narrowed in 2022.

Earlier research from Deakin University found an “education-employment mismatch” among international graduates on temporary graduate visas in Australia, with many working in low-skilled jobs.

While about 63% of full-time international university students were in managerial or professional occupations, 30% said they were working in a job that did not allow them to make full use of their skills or education.

Ly Tran, a professor at Deakin University, said international graduates face structural barriers to skilled employment.

“Many employers are not clear on what a post-study visa or a temporary graduate visa is,” explained Tran. “Furthermore, the post-study work visa (485) temporary status makes some employers feel insecure or hesitant to hire this cohort.

“Our research also shows that many Australian employers prefer candidates with permanent residency or citizenship, putting international graduates at a disadvantage.

“There are also a number of misconceptions employers have about international students and graduates and their scarcity [of] understanding the value of international graduates and their cross-border experiences, international networks, intercultural skills, transnational knowledge and their multilingual abilities,” Tran added.

Overall, the survey shows a large increase in employment rates for all graduates as Australia’s labor market continues to recover from the pandemic.

“This news is a timely reminder that a university education prepares students for a bright and fulfilling future, while returning significant returns to the labor market and the Australian community,” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said.

“Only 28% of international students stay and use their degrees here in Australia, but today’s findings show that opportunities are ready and waiting for us to take advantage of them.

“We need more college-educated workers entering our workforce”

“After all, more than half of the one million jobs expected to be created in the next five years will require a college degree — so we need more college-educated workers entering our workforce, not fewer.”

International graduates who returned home or moved to another country were more likely to be in full-time employment than their peers who remained in Australia.

The survey found differences in employment rates by home country, with 70% of Singaporeans holding full-time jobs compared to 52% of people from China and Sri Lanka.

Employment rates also varied by subject choice, with international full-time employment rates of 97% for pharmacy graduates compared to 46% for psychology graduates.

Among the universities with the highest rates of full-time employment among their graduates over three years were Avondale University (67%), James Cook University (59%) and the University of Queensland (56%).

International undergraduates from James Cook University had the highest median full-time salaries at AUS$75,300, followed by University of Newcastle graduates at AUS$68,000.

Tran called for greater understanding among Australian employers of the temporary work visa and the recruitment process for international graduates who hold these visas.

“It should be there. [a] a more coordinated approach involving education providers and various key stakeholders to tackle misperceptions and prejudices against international students and graduates in the Australian labor market,” she said.

“In the first place, statements such as ‘permanent residence/citizenship only’ or ‘must be PR or citizens’ should not be allowed in job adverts.

“Educating and raising the awareness of foreign students about the importance of developing employability early in their study program, about their rights during study and work, about strategies for navigating the labor market, and how to manage their expectations is no less important.”

She added that universities should provide international students with tailored career support to help them transition from education to work.

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