Norton says science a “risky” choice following latest employment figures
Aug 08, 2016 | News | by Matthew Knott, Sydney Morning Herald
The push to encourage more students to enrol in science and technology degrees is dangerous and risks leaving many graduates unemployed, the respected Grattan Institute has warned.
A new report by the think tank, to be released on Monday, finds that science enrolments have surged over recent years yet science graduates are struggling to find jobs. They are also less likely than other graduates to put into practice what they learnt at university.
Despite this, business groups, the science lobby and politicians continue to argue Australia needs more graduates with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) degrees.
Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton said beginning a science degree was a "risky" decision that students should not make lightly.
It would be a "good development" if fewer people chose to study science, he said.
"If people think doing a Bachelor in Science will give them skills that are highly valued in the labour market then they should probably look at studying something else," he said.
Science has added 26,800 local students since 2009, outstripping growth in other STEM fields.
Yet only 51 per cent of science graduates looking for full-time work in 2015 had found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points lower than the national average.
Graduates from biology and other life science courses do particularly badly although mathematics and chemistry graduates still have lower-than-average graduate employment rates.
The full-time employment rate for recent geology graduates has plummeted to its lowest level in 30 years following the end of the mining boom.
"We've never seen a cohort that has done this badly - we are in uncharted territory," Mr Norton said "I'm very nervous for the career prospects for recent science graduates."
Employment outcomes improve over time, with 82 per cent of science graduates in full-time work three years after finishing their degree. But these jobs are not necessarily matched to their expertise.
Only 53 per cent of life science graduates say their qualification is a "formal requirement" or important for their job.
Many science students want to study medicine and would be better going directly into a health-related degree, Mr Norton said.
The release of the report comes on the same day Greg Hunt will give his first major speech since taking over the science and innovation portfolio.
Mr Hunt will tell the Australian Academy of Science that it is important for the nation to have a "strong pipeline" of graduates with STEM skills that can be applied across many fields.
"There are those who believe there are too many people studying science and too many science graduates working in jobs outside the science field," he will say.
"Nothing could be further from the truth.
"Such thinking sees working out of field as a problem when it actually reflects the benefits of a scientific education in many areas of the economy."
The Grattan Institute also found that the proportion of recent information technology graduates in full-time work is at its lowest level since 1982 despite strong demand for workers in the IT sector.
"It seems the content in IT degrees is not what the industry needs," Mr Norton said.
People interested in working in IT may be better off getting a more practical vocational qualification, Mr Norton said.