Australia’s reputation as an education destination risks being undermined if it cannot improve the work opportunities on offer to students after graduation, it has been warned.
An analysis of visa data conducted by the International Education Association of Australia found that too many foreign graduates were out of the labour market or were underemployed, according to a report published on 15 October.
The report warns that international students might look on the country less favourably if it cannot demonstrate that it offers positive post-study work opportunities – a must for some learners.
Potentially more damagingly, it adds, Australia’s post-study work system could develop a reputation as “an opportunity primarily for pragmatic income generation through employment in entry-level occupations…as opposed to an educational and career-enhancing opportunity as it is intended”.
“This could have foreseeable, significant adverse consequences for Australia in terms of its reputation as a study destination, and in the eventual mix of students that are drawn to study here,” the paper says.
The report, released at the Australian International Education Conference in Perth, focuses on the 92,000 temporary graduate visa holders in the country, most of whom are allowed to stay in the country for two years after graduation (three for master’s by research graduates, four for doctoral graduates).
Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the IEAA, said it was time for a formal evaluation of the temporary graduate visa programme against its policy objectives.
“Graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree by coursework are only eligible for a two-year work visa,” he said. “Is this really enough time to gain meaningful, course-related experience in the Australian workplace?”
Temporary graduate visa holders are mostly Asian, in their twenties, live in large cities such as Sydney or Melbourne, and have high self-reported English levels. Most studied management and commerce, IT or engineering.
The IEAA report says that about three-quarters are working: 44 per cent full time and 30 per cent part time. That leaves about 10 per cent seeking work, and 12 per cent not participating in the labour market, meaning they are not looking for work at all.
Of those who are working, 22 per cent are in professional or managerial posts. A significant proportion (17 per cent) take on low-skilled retail, wholesale or hospitality jobs. The rest are in the healthcare sector (9 per cent), entry-level white-collar jobs (8 per cent) or technician posts (6 per cent).
The report says that foreign graduates are typically younger than domestic job applicants, which might make them appear overqualified to employers, or might mean that visa holders are not aware of the age and experience of candidates they are competing with.
It adds that employment while studying is linked to post-study work success, and flags that Chinese students are significantly less likely to be in work at either stage, suggesting that many “did not need or intend to work while they were students and this carries through to the post-study work phase”.
Mr Honeywood told Times Higher Education that there was “a disconnect between the needs of students and Australia maximising their potential”.
“Temporary graduates have real potential to enhance Australia’s productivity, provided they are able to secure relevant jobs in which they can apply their skills,” he said.