You might expect that, on average, graduates from Australia’s longest established and most prestigious universities, the so-called ‘Group of 8’, go on to earn the highest salaries. After all, those universities attract the best and brightest, and their degrees are generally more highly regarded. But that’s not so, says HILDA, the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. And HILDA’s conclusions have created a storm of academic outrage.
The war of words has been played out in the pages of the Australian Financial Review, which teased out the conclusion from the results of the latest HILDA survey, undertaken by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne.
The AFR reported on 15 July: "Graduates of the prestigious ‘Group of 8’ universities do not enjoy the highest incomes … HILDA survey finds. That privilege belongs to graduates of younger institutions such as La Trobe, Griffith, James Cook, Charles Darwin, Flinders and Murdoch universities banded together under the Innovation Research Universities banner, closely followed by the Australian Technology Network universities.”
And the differences were not insignificant. “Graduates of Innovation Research Universities enjoy incomes 13 percent to 15 percent higher than those of graduates of Group of 8 universities,” The AFR said. “They are closely followed by graduates of the five Australian Technology Network (ATN) universities, who enjoy a nine percent to 10 per cent earnings premium over their Group of 8 counterparts.”
Not surprisingly this conclusion provoked a swift response from the Group of 8 (which comprises the universities of Melbourne, Monash, Sydney, NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, Adelaide and ANU). The AFR reported Group of 8 CEO, Vicki Thompson, questioning the veracity of the HILDA methodology and describing the results as “skewed" and "clearly anomalous with previous studies.”
The AFR subsequently reported the author of the report, Roger Wilkins, deputy director of the HILDA survey and an economics professor at Melbourne University, defending the report’s conclusions, saying he was “very confident of its legitimacy and its credibility.”
However, he did concede that the HILDA survey, of about 12000 individuals in 7000 households, did not look at the self-employed – a group that could include high earning medical specialists and top lawyers. Nor did it adjust for graduates’ field of study. The Group of 8 produces more graduates in humanities, science and the creative arts who are likely to earn less than engineers, IT and finance professionals that account for a higher percentage of graduates from the other universities.
He also said that the whole controversy was unnecessary and he believed the Group of 8 to be the best universities in the country. Thomson was not satisfied. The AFR reported her as saying: “There's no question that a report like this coming out without all those qualifiers risks reputational damage to the university sector and in this case to the Go8.”
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