Science graduates high risk or high reward?

August 17, 2016

Australia’s academic and industry leaders call the Grattan Institute’s Mapping Higher Education Report “near-sighted” in its assessment of science graduate employability.

science graduates

The employment prospects of science graduates are called into question by a report published by the Grattan Institute.

Studying science will get you a job – just not the job you might expect.

Industry and high placed academics have decried the results of a report declaring science to be a ‘high risk’ degree.

Such results fail to represent career prospects for those working outside of traditional science roles, say a cohort of Australia’s leading science experts.

Last week the respected Grattan Institute think tank’s Mapping Higher Education report warned that science was a ‘high risk’ study choice and that many recent science and information technology graduates are failing to find full-time work.

It’s not wrong, but it is near-sighted, say university and industry experts.

The report, released last week, concludes that a bachelor science degree is “high risk for finding a job” with “poor employment outcomes”, warning 51% 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.

There has been a 20-year decline in participation in science at college.

But thinking of science as a one-track path to the lab fails to take into account the broader benefits of a science degree, says Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt.

Professor Les Field, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Australia and Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, says STEM-based education gives students a “versatile, flexible, problem-solving, technology-literate grounding, which is what you need for life and employment in the modern world”.

Science graduates have higher rates of employment

The Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM workforce, shows that over the medium term, people with STEM qualifications have higher rates of employment than graduates from other disciplines, Field points out.

“A survey of 466 employers across various sectors [STEM Skills in the workforce: What do employers want? March, 2015] have also shown that many employers expect to employ many more STEM graduates over the next five to 10 years, and around a quarter are already struggling to recruit people with appropriate STEM qualifications,” says Field.

“There is some mismatch between employer requirements of STEM graduates and the skills and experience with which they are coming out of universities. We should advocate that more industry placements and internships form a stronger part of university education.”

“Not a lot of opportunities”

Zara Barger, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) admits that she is “a little worried” about her prospects. “In Australia it seems as though there is not a lot of opportunities. As part of my degree I have to do two 6-month internships and I think that will give me insight and connections.”

Alecia Newton, a UTS Bachelor of Science student, agrees. “I’m a little bit concerned. I’m planning on getting some experience by volunteering so fingers crossed that will get me a job. But science is a good starting ground – it will give me good knowledge and if it doesn’t work out I will do a Masters in high school teaching,” she says.

Grattan report “surprising”

“It’s surprising to see the Grattan Institute’s claims that are contrary to other reports both here and overseas,” says Jackie Randles, state manager for Inspiring Australia, the Federal Government’s national strategy for engaging communities in STEM.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not yet considered crucial today and likely to involve STEM,” says Randles.

“Closer to home, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy with business joining government and academics in calls to redress a worrying skills gap.”

Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, says graduates with a “good science degree and a balanced portfolio of skills, knowledge and abilities will continue to have good employment prospects but not necessarily as academic researchers.

“The STEM disciplines, including art and design provide very good training for the world of work but degrees should not be regarded as vocational training. A good background in STEM disciplines opens up many opportunities in careers that may not necessarily be regarded as STEM careers.”

Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at UNSW and former Dean of Science agrees that the longer term prospects for science graduates are excellent.

“With slightly more people studying science, obviously slightly fewer people will get jobs at once. Science still provides opportunities – all doors remain open to science graduates.”

Heather Catchpole

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One thought on “Women in STEM: Mathilde Desselle”

  1. I think being a science graduate is actually a reward. Whether or not you are working in science stream in future, you can experiment with your skills in management field too!

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