University graduates are securing full time employment at a greater rate in 2021 than the previous year, despite the impacts of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Full-time employment four months after graduation increased from 68.7 per cent in 2020 to 68.9 per cent in 2021, according to the 2021 Graduate Outcomes Survey, released this week.

The rise might be small, but given the challenging jobs market and mass lay-offs in some industry sectors such as hospitality and tourism, it’s a win.

The survey is the largest of its kind and completed by 127,827 graduates. It shows that after declining between 2019 and 2020, graduate employment opportunities have levelled out this year.

Salaries rise

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson says the results demonstrate the benefit of a graduate qualification.

The report also highlights that while the prospects for graduates after they complete their studies are strong, they improve significantly with time.

The number of hours graduates work has increased for both full-time and part-time employees, along with salaries.

Within three years of finishing their studies, nearly nine out of 10 graduates are employed full time, Ms Jackson says.

“While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt everywhere, a degree continues to give students the edge in an increasingly competitive market,” she says.

“The survey shows signs of a recovery in the graduate job market. As vaccination rates improve and reach beyond 80 per cent in some places, and more states begin to open up, it’s highly likely the premium for graduates will grow further,” Ms Jackson says.

“Graduate employment traditionally outstrips the trajectory of the national economy. So, a university education equips you for success in even in the most challenging economic environment,” she says.

The increase in graduate employment compared to last year has been welcomed by the Federal Government.

Graduates are hitting the ground running and entering the workforce despite lockdowns, Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge, says.

“It’s encouraging to see that despite the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, students are getting on with their lives, graduating and moving quickly into full-time work,” Minister Tudge said.

The top performing degrees for employment outcomes following graduation include pharmacy (95.0 per cent), engineering (80.3 per cent) and teacher education (79.1 per cent).

Gender pay gap real

But the survey has highlighted a worrying trend when surveying graduate salaries.

While the median full-time undergraduate salary level increased slightly from $64,700 in 2020 to $65,000 in 2021, women are earning less than men.

It reveals that full-time female undergraduates continue to earn less than male undergraduates in 2021, $64,200 compared with $66,800 respectively.

The fact that university graduates are experiencing a gender pay gap in their first full-time role doesn’t bode well for our nation to address the issue.

Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap in 14.2 per cent.

As at May 2021, women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings across all industries and occupations was $1,575, compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,837.

This means that on average, women earn $261 less than men.

“The survey shows a widening gender gap of 3.9 per cent, increasing from 2.5 per cent in 2020. This remains an inequity which must be addressed,” said Ms Jackson.

Universities with the highest rates of employment post-graduation were: Charles Sturt University (84.6 per cent), Central Queensland University (83.4 per cent), University of New England at 80.9 per cent and the University of Southern Queensland (79.2 per cent).

The survey can be accessed here.