Generation Z Commence University: Choosing the Right Course

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2.1 million Australians (9% of the total population) are enrolled in formal study beyond the school classroom and 7.8 million Australians aged 25-64 have a post-secondary qualification which is 2 in 3 people (67%, up from 54% a decade ago).

2014 marks the first year of Generation Z, those born since 1995, entering university. They are the most digitally supplied, globally connected, and formally educated generation in history. They not only have more institutions to consider – from traditional universities to private colleges, but more ways to study – from on-campus to online, and more course options than ever before.

As these Gen Zs begin their university studies and many of Australia’s Gen Ys seek to further their current qualifications, McCrindle Research analyses ABS and Graduate Careers Australia data to compile lists of the best degrees.

Graduate earnings hit an all-time low in real terms

Three decades ago, the average graduate’s starting salary was the same as average full-time weekly earnings (average male full-time earnings). Therefore, when the Baby Boomers graduates were commencing their employment, the average 21 year-old bachelor-level graduates began their earning years on a salary equivalent the average full-time earner.

Graduate starting salaries have continued to lose ground against average weekly earnings and are now just over 77% of this benchmark.

Additionally, the variation in starting salaries across courses is massive, ranging from more than $64,000 (engineering) to $39,000 (pharmacy), while the average starting salary for a construction worker is $40,000 and for a factory worker is $42,000.

But degrees offer good earnings growth

The difference in starting salaries between those who enter the workforce without tertiary qualifications and those with a bachelor degree is negligible, but the motivating factor to pursue higher education remains. A senior salary for a factory worker is $63,000, for a construction worker it is $75,000, for a pharmacist it is $80,500, and for an engineer, $173,000.

Generation debt

There are more graduates than ever and at the same time more study debt than ever. The average HELP/HECS debt has increased from $10,600 in 2006 to $15,200 in 2012. There are currently almost 1.7 million Australians with a HECS debt, and the most common HECS debt owed (by more than a quarter of million HECS-debtors) is between $20,000 and $30,000. The total study debt owed to the Commonwealth is approach $30 billion, with most of this owed by Generation Y. It is estimated that up to 20% of this will never be repaid.

Generation Z will run up more study debt than any other generation in history. The challenge, as this analysis reveals, is that the majority of graduates in some of these course areas will accumulate a significant debt for a degree in a field in which they will never work. The mixed blessing for graduates in some of these courses is that they will not have to pay off their study debt for some time as the average starting salary is well below the current HECS-HELP repayment threshold of $51,309.

More graduates, less work

For the Builders generation (those aged in their late 60s), just 1 in 10 have a university degree. For the Baby Boomers (those in their 50s) this is 1 in 5, for Generation X (those in their 30s) it is 1 in 4, and for today’s Generation Ys (in their late 20s) 1 in 3 hold a tertiary qualification. Based on current trends for today’s school aged students, Generation Z, as many as 1 in 2 will likely end up with a university degree.

Yet while the proportions of Australians with university degrees continue to rise, the number of bachelor degree graduates who are able to secure work within 4 months of graduating is significantly decreasing, with 71% of bachelor-degree graduates able to secure full-time employment in 2013 compared to 76.1% in 2012 and 76.3% in 2011.

At the same time, the percentage of graduates in part-time or casual employment and looking for full-time work is increasing (18.1% in 2013 compared to 15.3% in 2012 and 14.9% in 2011), as is the percentage of students not working but looking for full-time employment (10.6% in 2013 up from 8.6% in 2012 and 8.7% in 2011).

Emerging careers

In order for today’s school leavers to combat the unprecedented choices they have in studying, they need to look to Australia’s economic, demographic, and technology future to make informed choices. Many Australians are employed in jobs today that didn’t exist a decade ago, and of the estimated 17 jobs that Gen Z will hold in their lifetime, some of these don’t currently exist.

In McCrindle Research’s national study, when Australians were asked to nominate which courses of study they felt will emerge over the next decade to accommodate growth areas and emerging careers, respondents focused predominantly on the digital age and health care.

Careers in information technology, computing science, digital media, online education, digital communication, and any other skills requiring computer technologies were seen to be on the rise, as were careers focusing on health and medicine, particularly in the provision of aged care health services. Australians also felt that the field of environmental science and research into renewable energies and resources would continue to increase in the decade ahead.

Top 4 ‘Future-Proofed’ Degrees

These degrees are often underrated and overlooked, yet turn out to offer the best graduate employment opportunities. More than 4 in 5 (80%) graduates from bachelor level study were available for full-time employment, and the vast majority of these were working in their field of study. Additionally, each of these top four courses delivered a salary above the national $50,000 graduate average.


Name of Course

Available for Full-time employment

Of those in full-time employment, % working in their field of study

Median starting salary







Urban/Regional Planning










Electrical Engineering




Table 1: ‘Future-Proofed’ Degrees

Social researcher Mark McCrindle comments on Australia’s most underrated degrees, stating: “Australia’s population growth is creating the need for more homes than ever and the redevelopment of many existing urban centres. This planning and construction boom is creating great opportunities for graduates in relevant fields and has facilitated surveying, urban planning, and engineering to be rated in the Top 4 courses based on a combination of employment, earnings and analysis”.

“Additionally,” McCrindle says, “Australia’s ageing population is creating growth and opportunities in courses in the rehabilitation and health fields”.

Top 4 ‘Populist’ Degrees

These Top 4 “Populist” Degrees are those that are impacted by their own success. When the supply of undergraduates exceeds the demand on the employment side, many graduates end up either moving to further study rather than employment, working in a career in a different field to their course or commencing on salaries below the average graduate starting salary.

One of the most popular university subjects is Psychology (currently ranked 6th most popular in the world by and in Australia it is also one of the most popular courses. The data below shows that only 40% of Psychology graduates are “career-ready” (available for full-time employment), and of graduates who are currently in full-time employment, only 63% are working in the field of psychology. In addition, those who are working full-time in their field start off with a median salary of $47,500, well below the average starting salary of $50,000.

Of all visual and performing arts graduates, just half of those employed are working in their field of study, and architecture offered one of the lowest graduate starting salaries.

Based on the above criteria (the percentage of graduates available for full-time employment, their employability in their field of study, and their median salary), here are the degrees which most fit this criteria:


Name of Course

Available for Full-time employment

Of those in full-time employment, % working in their field of study

Median starting salary












Visual and Performing Arts





Social Sciences




Table 2: Most ‘Populist’ Degrees

“Along with arts, law, and the social sciences, psychology has become a ‘generalist’ degree rather than an avenue to professional practice and the figures need to be seen in this light,” says Mark McCrindle.

“As a psychology graduate not working as a psychologist, I can understand the interest in the field and despite the statistics above, I know first-hand its benefits as a foundational degree,” he states.

Click here to download this social analysis:

Click here to download this file

Sources: McCrindle Research, Graduate Careers Australia, ABS Measures of Australia’s Progress, DEEWR Higher Education Reports, DIISRTE, Open Universities Australia.

Welcome to our blog...

We have a passion for research that tells a story, that can be presented visually, that brings about change and improves organisations. And we hope these resources help you know the times.

Our Social Media Sites

Facebook | McCrindle Research Social Media YouTube | McCrindle Research Social Media Twitter | McCrindle Research Social Media Flickr | McCrindle Research Social Media Pinterest | McCrindle Research Social Media Google Plus | McCrindle Research Social Media LinkedIn | McCrindle Research Social Media Mark McCrindle Slideshare

Last 150 Articles


events 1975 budget daily telegraph real christianity pyrmont ethnography report Royals media EFF future of work McCrindle Speakers infographic spend mccrindle in the media education research Australian Census study group researcher South Australia Real Estate Institute of Victoria personal growth sports analysis names baby boomers VIC selfie future-proof cancelling plans workshop year 7 optus Education Future Forum world Australia Day national crime rates entrepreneur Australian Communities Trends financial independence Wellington Mark McCrindle weather government emerging generations conference IT Specialists property click snapshot suburbs shopper's pick tv hopes land of the middle class financial future teachers Christmas presents mateship baby names rain seasons weekly earnings February 16 home owner cost of living cartodb optus my business awards investment Adelaide owning a home australian communities forum eliane Scouts visual wages rule keeper 1994 data New South Wales house price menai Financial Planning Association society trends balance culture middle class politics demographic trends 2020 Melbourne research services thought leadership housing affordability "know the times" media activity education future report mccrindle tea challenge students census marriages hobart transport holiday winter sector wide study social shifts university australian social research media commentary winter blues Caregiver economy in the media interactive participants authenticity sunny days statistics work high density living media release conference speaker organisational culture System's Architect area living wealth distribution research data communicate school hills shire The Daily Edition educated schools Engineering Manager Aussie 2014 renter of the future 24,000,000 parents leadership tips resource generation easy rider ageing population 2015 lalor park neutral bay income google school satisfaction CBD housing market child care royal influence entertainment news local communities small business qualitative research city parenting house social change energy rising house prices know the times thrive affordability NEETs debt wolloomooloo mythbusting education mythbusters financial dreams focus groups digital conference presentation crime not for profit social research graphs retirement urban living index logan recap research paying to work high density grandparents keynote panel salary commute research pack equip Sydney buildings identity 2016 Australian schools finance Australian Families investor Charlotte careers daily commute engage generations church repayments long weekend social trends poker master trends analyst 1980 customer Northern beaches Event 2013 cloudy days annual income entrepreneurs of today Kiwi research visualisation high school social researchers Australian Bureau of Statistics cancelling event millenials innovation apartment follow professional volunteers growing population property market teaching manly REIV National Conference omnibus cultural diversity brands workforce waverton in depth interviews Christmas season sydney speaker brand experience blaxland Australian communities ease of travel national private wealth debate megatrends sun royal brand wealth and income wellbeing population map staff social researcher happiness collaboration employers TAS families millionth household mentor national wealth futurist trend tuesday huffington post public holiday market research social commentator 10 years case study brisbane shopping couple Australian Home australia learning styles Myth forecasting dessert global ACT Australian Dream online insight employment results vegetarian Tasmania quote Population Clock households the changing face of friendship anzac property price insights facts Kirsten Brewer safe 23 million consumer ACF demographic transformations tertiary education youth celebration Northern Territory dare to dream relevant divorce Merry Christmas presentations lifestyle FOMO rich children global financial crisis survey sydneysiders etiquette divorce rate staying in English Assistant Store Manager population milestone Geoff Brailey SA social analysis priorities local generation Z friends Northern Beaches dreaming men eliane miles keynote speaker sector wide perth housing princess charlotte Word Up cash moreton bay social lives coffee newspaper easter ipswich baby boom builders social enquiry jobs of the future ABS overcast holidays Generation Y mccrindle research house prices ACF 2016 data analyst GPO 40 million award suburb Christmas lunch population growth darwin fears victoria responsive gen alpha Northern Beaches Christian School video leader faux-cilise gender work-life generational trends JOMO global generations stats Tuesday Trends goal hornsby language FPA social family crows nest mobile schools students internet mining boom christmas going out mortgage intern australians staying home more define teleworking event social media future proof Sydney keynote speaker workplace demographer Gen X Crime Rates organisations young people Financial Planning Association of Australia workplace culture marriage dream plans Real Estate program work mates summer unemployment sydneycity education future shbc Social Trend ultimo tea data visualisation Canberra world youth day urban community event suburban living Gen Y non profit ashley fell life faux-ciliser communications Valentine’s Day socialites Christchurch prince george business index Territory faux-cilising focus group sustainable states shifts charity economic father's day youth unemployment Australian demographics state population publication environment urban taskforce Duchess of Cambridge proactive royal baby survey design moderators guide high density apartments greatness tuesday The ABC of XYZ home ownership bondi kate middleton wedding personalities cars litter religion gold coast stay home Queensland potts point geomapping NT community engagement Western Australia urban living online shopping New Zeland presentation townhouses capital city new york times slideshare product Aussies earn emerging trends skills training young australians criminal World Water Day domestic NSW mccrindle REIV Conference 2012 emerging technologies Netflix cancel plans demographics offenders rent ashley mckenzie trend professional development Births social life typical australian poor Research Executive 1968 not-for-profit community career Australians technology cold sentiments PSI baby name future marketing HSC Generation X mother's day increasing densification tattoos sydney event trends Res Vis gen z list Tuesday Trend capital cities business financial fresh home earnings communication acf15 leadership workshop royal family generation alpha women sunburnt country Australian Trends change australian communities trends report residents socialising wealth growth resilience goals public speaking wealth and income distribution baby affordable mover and shaker relational 24 million future of education optimistic woolworths Deaths clothing society cost water Love education sector Hornsby Shire Council housing growth jobs demographic school students year 12 university degree entrepreneurial WA Financial Planning Week tableau motivate forum low density learning marrickville group session renting vegemite housing trends monarchy New Zealand networking narcissism