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UNZ cautions about potential for misuse of national earnings data

30 August 2017 | media

Universities New Zealand welcomes the release of data to guide student choices around study and career options, but is worried about the likelihood that the data might mislead or confuse current or potential students.

The data, from the Ministry of Education, shows the employment status and earnings of graduates in each of the nine years following graduation by institution. 

Universities New Zealand's Executive Director Chris Whelan says, “Though it’s pleasing to see that a university graduate will, on average, earn more than a non-university graduate with a similar qualification, much of the data invites users to compare apples with oranges. 

“For example, the data do not account for the different costs of being a student in different areas, or for the fact that graduates are going into different regional employment markets so a graduate who gets employed in Auckland, may earn more than a graduate who goes to work in Temuka, but they will also have different living costs.  For example, nurses who graduate from an Auckland-based tertiary education provider have earnings rates as much as $10,000 higher than graduates from rural education providers.

“Additionally, income data are shown as an average of people in both part-time and full-time work, so it’s not clear what the actual earnings are for people in full-time employment.

“Similarly, there are a few institutions with higher than average earnings or employment rates and, on the face of it, they look like a great choice for study. But, when you look closer, you see they only have 10 or 20 graduates and they are being compared with other programmes with thousands of graduates.

“Overall, we think these data are useful for students who want to know about the earning and employment rates for graduates of a particular programme they are interested in enrolling in.  However, we think it would be highly misleading to compare outcomes from two different institutions and to conclude one is better than the other on the basis of this information.

“We urge extreme caution in how this data is used and interpreted.”

Universities New Zealand has carried out its own analysis of graduate outcomes in 2016 and they confirm that both earnings and employment prospects improve in line with education.

A graduate with a bachelors level qualification will earn about 60% more than someone with a school qualification. This rises to around 85% for an honours (Level 8) qualification, 95% for a masters (level 9) qualification, and 150% for a doctorate (Level 10) qualification.

A typical graduate can expect to earn around $1.5 more than a non-graduate over their working life.

The Employment outcomes for tertiary education graduates for different tertiary providers is available here. UNZ’s release on graduate outcomes is at here.