Postgraduate education: Is it worth it?

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

So youve finished your degree – now what? With more Australians taking time to study for longer, find out if the benefits to your career and earning potential could be enough to make it worth investing in a postgraduate qualification.

Starting your working life with a sizeable HECs debt might not be the best thing about studying for a qualification in Australia, but it’s definitely not deterring young people from continuing with their studies after high school. Figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 showed that nearly two thirds of Australians have completed a university degree or apprenticeship[1]. And what this is leading to is a rise in educational standards demanded by employers in many industries.

So perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that in 2017 more than 20% of graduates went on to do additional full-time study or research instead of entering the job market straight away[2]. And given the growth in overall postgraduate enrolments in recent years, it seems postgraduate study is also a priority for mid-career professionals too. In the five years to 2017, there has been a 46% rise in the number of people with postgraduate degrees and a 123% increase since 2006[3].


Resisting the wage slump

So what can postgraduate students hope to gain from continuing with their studies at uni? In terms of earning potential, wage growth for workers with postgraduate qualifications definitely puts them ahead of the pack. In the four years to 2018, wage growth in Australia has been flat, even though unemployment figures have been reasonably stable. The Wages Price Index (WPI) for the year to April 2018, for example, rose by just 2.1%[4]. Compare this with wage growth figures for postgraduate qualified workers collected in the 2017 Graduate Outcomes Survey and the picture looks much rosier. Full-time salaries for postgraduate coursework degree holders rose by 12.5% over the three years to 2017[5], an average of just under 4.2% per year.

You might think this compares pretty favourably with the rest of the working population. But looking at how salaries have grown for postgraduate research degree holders in the same period, our coursework graduates might feel quite hard done by. For workers with a