In 2011, Sarah Doyle enrolled in a four-year university degree, studying a Bachelor of Behavioural Science and Counselling at The University of Notre Dame in Sydney.
She wanted to work in social welfare — but after graduating and applying for a range of jobs, Ms Doyle was never even granted a single interview, let alone a job.
She soon realised the degree was not recognised by Australian psychological associations, and for the next two years, Ms Doyle applied for jobs while working in retail and hospitality to support herself.
Ms Doyle, 27, is now in her second year of a six-year Bachelor of Psychological Science at The University of Wollongong.
She has a HELP debt of close to $50,000, and by the time she completes her studies, she will have spent a decade of her young life at university.
“I’ve spent a lot of money, energy and time. I spent four years studying and it’s like my degree isn’t real.
“I did really well at university and I’m starting to realise it’s not about the grades.”
Ms Doyle said she only knew of two peers from her first degree who found jobs in the field.
“I worked really hard through uni … and to come out feeling like you don’t have any opportunity to start moving forward as a young adult is a bit depressing,” she said.
“I lost motivation very, very quickly. People were telling me ‘you’re smart, you have your degree’ but to never have that acknowledged within the workforce was very discouraging. I felt like my degree meant nothing.
“The only positive thing I got out of my first degree was credit points towards my current degree — in the workforce it didn’t seem to be regarded at all.”
Ms Doyle plans to become a psychologist in future, and she balances study with a paid position at a psychological clinic, which she was offered after a stint of volunteering.
She hopes this vital industry experience will put her ahead of the pack when she graduates.
She said universities needed to provide more support and volunteering and internship opportunities to help students find jobs — and said it was essential that students research future career prospects before enrolling.
“There are a lot of jobs out there that don’t even require a degree, so rushing off to uni with high expectations and without realising the debt you will be in is not necessarily the best course of action,” she said.
Sadly, Ms Doyle is not alone — data released by The Good Universities Guide late last year revealed about 30 per cent of undergraduates left university without any job prospects and struggled to break into the competitive job market.
While Charles Sturt University had the best employment outcomes followed by Charles Darwin University and Notre Dame, Australia’s worst-performing institutions were Southern Cross University followed by Curtin and La Trobe.
Research from the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University also revealed that between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of recent graduates in full-time employment dropped from 56.4 per cent to 41.7 per cent, with the 2017 Graduate Outcomes Survey finding the courses with the lowest full-time employment rate immediately upon graduation were creative arts and science and mathematics.
However, Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said an improving labour market had led to a “steady improvement in graduate job rates”.
“The data shows that graduates, like everyone entering the labour market, need time to establish their careers,” Ms Jackson said.
“But this immediate outlook can shift quickly — within three years of finishing their studies, nine in 10 graduates are employed full-time.
“Employment rates after four months differ by field, but after three years, graduates with generalist degrees have largely closed the gap.”
Nevertheless, Queensland mum of three Susan Jane still hasn’t found work more than six years after graduating.
In 2009, she hired a manager for her natural therapies business, rented out her home and moved from Gympie to the Gold Coast to pursue her dream of studying at Griffith University.
As a 48-year-old mature-age student, Ms Jane enrolled in a bachelor’s degree in Public Health, majoring in Health Promotion.
At the time, Ms Jane and her fellow students were told there was an abundance of jobs in the industry.
But by the time Ms Jane graduated at 50 in 2011, a change in government had already ended the Health Promotion career boom, with the private sector quickly snapping up experienced workers from the public sector who suddenly found their positions redundant.
It meant recent graduates were forced to either relocate to other states, or abandon their careers altogether.
Ms Jane said she had given up looking for a job she was qualified for two years after graduating in the top five per cent of her cohort.
She has never worked in the field, and is saddled with a $25,000 HECS debt she has little hope of paying off.
“I absolutely loved uni; I worked three jobs doing it, and I went in with the right attitude because I wanted to get ahead,” Ms Jane said.
“They told us there were heaps of jobs available and because it was a new area, they were screaming out for people.
“I did three years of full-time study, but by the time I finished, there was absolutely nothing there at all.”
Ms Jane said out of her university peers, she only knew of three people who had found jobs in health promotion — although all three had moved across the country to Victoria.
She stressed that her studies had been a positive experience that had given her a lot of confidence, and that she did not blame the university for her career outcomes.
But she said given the rapidly changing nature of work, it made more sense for universities to provide broader qualifications in areas such as “leadership” or other areas that would be useful in a range of careers, instead of providing rigid degrees for specific careers.
Since graduating, Ms Jane has published a book and now organises personal development and goal setting workshops in schools and in the community.
She said she had used the skills she learned while studying as much as possible — but admitted her struggle to find a job had been “challenging”.
“I wasn’t expecting to add more financial stress — getting a degree was supposed to ease that,” she said.
To search for and compare graduate course outcomes from every university, visit www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au.
This article originally appeared on News.com.au – Graduates slam ‘meaningless’ degrees, dismal career prospects and crippling debt