Australian students that graduate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are seeing entry-level salaries up to 17 percent above the national average, according to new data.

A study by Korn Ferry Hay Group found that Australian STEM graduates were offered starting salaries of between 11 and 17 percent above the average across all professions.

The study looked at salaries for 5.6 million entry-level positions at 20,000 companies. It took into account 25 job titles, and covered 17 countries.

In Australia, a software developer could expect to earn the most straight out of university, followed by an “environmental professional” and an “engineer”. All could expect a starting salary between $71,000 and $75,000, the study said.

Korn Ferry Hay Group’s rewards and benefits solution head for Australia Trevor Warden said that the picture was fairly similar for STEM graduates worldwide.

“The study showed that in every nation analysed, STEM careers were among the highest paid of the surveyed careers,” Warden said.

“For example, an entry-level engineer in the United Kingdom can expect to make 13 percent above the UK national average, and an entry-level engineer in France can make 14 percent above that country’s national average.

“In Australia too this is also the case, with an entry-level engineer making 11 percent above our national average, and an entry-level software developer 17 percent above.”

However, Warden noted that simply graduating in a STEM field might not be enough to secure a high salary on its own.

“It’s important to note that many factors go into consideration when determining salaries, including the market supply and demand for certain skills,” he said.

“Graduates, however, who choose certain career paths can expect to make more than their peers, regardless of the country in which they reside.”

Warden said it was important to expose “young people to several different types of career paths early on [to] help them find vocations that will allow them to follow their passion and have economically viable careers.”

Despite the relatively high salaries – and a gender pay gap that is low compared to other industries – STEM fields continue to face challenges attracting enough students.

The participation of Australian girls aged 15 to 19 in STEM subjects is well below rates seen in other countries in the region.

NSW chief scientist and engineer Professor Mary O’Kane told the ACS Reimagination 2015 conference that the current education system allowed students to “fall away” from science and maths, which restricted them from choosing computer science or other STEM-related studies later on.

In 2011, there were 2.3 million people with STEM qualifications in Australia, accounting for about 10 percent of Australia’s population.

It is hoped that data collected in this year’s census will show whether policies implemented over the past five years to grow STEM participation have had any measurable impact.

A strategy to encourage the development of STEM skills in schools was adopted nationally in December, raising hopes of future improvement.

The return of the Coalition government to power also means the continuation of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), which is also funding initiatives to bring more students to STEM.