A postgraduate degree will best serve your job prospects in ICT over the next five years of any qualification, according to a report by the ACS and Deloitte Access Economics.
The report, Australia's Digital Pulse, predicts demand for ICT workers with postgraduate qualifications will grow 4.2 percent a year until 2020.
If that is realised, the number of ICT workers in Australia with postgraduate qualifications would rise from 169,508 in 2014 to 216,922 in 2020.
"Strong demand growth for postgraduate ICT qualifications reflects the broader ‘skills deepening’ trend in the labour market; that is, a growing propensity towards holding higher qualifications," the report said.
But the prediction was met with a mixed response from academics surveyed by Information Age.
Professor Nick Wailes, Associate Dean (Digital & Innovation) at the UNSW Australia Business School, was not surprised by the "robust" prediction of future postgraduate skills demand.
He said present enrolment levels were "strong".
"I think we've always been a little surprised that demand isn't higher than it has been because industry's really signalling for these type of [qualifications]," Wailes said.
His school recently launched an MBA in technology to cater for demand for business leaders with ICT knowledge and skills.
"Some really interesting feedback we had from a very senior executive is the times when leaders of organisations can afford to not understand how stuff works is disappearing," Wailes said.
"You've got to be able to understand not only the reason for strategy but also how you're going to realise that strategy, and I think increasingly how you're going to realise it is around your understanding of technology and how to deploy it successfully across a number of different [business] areas."
Wailes believed there was a "clear" payback for students.
"The more you invest in education, the better your job prospects are."
Rob Livingstone, a fellow at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and author of a book on career resilience in the era of digital disruption, noted that while "any study is of value to the individual", assumptions on payback should be appropriately tested.
"The assumption that by studying more that it will yield a positive return in higher salary or higher job security may or may not be valid for everyone," Livingstone said.
"It's important to validate and test the underlying assumptions that one has about studying or investing effort in a particular direction in a career.
"Graduates, recent graduates or those that are considering further study need to consider where in the medium term the threats to those skills likely to be."
No employer demand… yet
Professor Paul Strooper, Head of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Queensland, was also "surprised" by the postgraduate prediction.
"It's not a trend that we have identified yet," he said.
"I think it would be a healthy trend if we saw more interest, because there are many people who got their degree a long time ago and there are many areas in ICT - like cybersecurity, big data and data science - where things have changed quite drastically even in the last few years.
"So if there' s one area where continuing professional development and postgraduate qualifications make sense it's certainly ICT."
However, Strooper saw some significant hurdles to the prediction being realised.
"I think you will not find many job ads [now] where people ask for postgraduate qualifications," Strooper said.
"I think you will find plenty of job ads that ask for people with experience, but I think you'd be hard pressed in Australia to find job ads that ask for a Masters in something - MBA might be the one exception."
The cost of postgraduate masters degrees was also a potential inhibitor to domestic enrolments.
"For domestic students the Australian government supports undergraduate degrees, it supports postgraduate research degrees but there's no support available for postgraduate masters degrees so it's a full fee paying affair even for domestic students," he said.
"It is a big ask for someone to pay full fees unless they can see the job ads.
"I've seen anecdotally some of the data on salaries indicates it is going to improve your salary a bit, but when you end up paying over $20,000 a year … it's difficult to imagine why many people would want to do that."
How other ICT qualifications fare
Australia's Digital Pulse also predicts the growth rates of other ICT qualifications over the next five years to 2020.
While postgraduate qualifications are anticipated to be most in-demand, undergraduate qualifications are expected to rise 3.4 percent a year, while advanced diplomas, diplomas and certificate III and IV qualifications could see rises of 3.2 percent annually.
"The increase in demand for certificate I and II ICT qualifications is more subdued at 2 percent per annum," the report said.