As thousands of students around Australia throw their academic caps into the sky this month, many of them will be left thousands of dollars in debt.
The Turnbull Government is now looking to reduce the repayment threshold for uni graduates by more than $10,000, which means anyone earning more than $45,000 would make compulsory contributions.
With the average debt somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, and higher for specialist fields like law or medicine, some might be asking ‘was it worth it?’
We take a look.
There are a couple of cost-benefit indicators
The Good Education Group, an independent education and career information service, said there were a couple of ways to judge whether a degree would pay off.
“Lots of students think about graduate employment rates and median graduate starting salaries as a reason to go to university in the first place,” head of data and analytics Ross White said.
“The latest data available indicates that the overall average graduate employment rate for undergraduates is around about the 70 per cent mark — that’s across all universities.”
“Those figures seem to indicate that there’s definitely a breadth of choice for students with degrees.
“With starting salaries … the numbers go from $50,000 at RMIT in Melbourne all the way up to $61,000 as a starting salary from the University of Southern Queensland.
“The national average starting salary is $56,000.”
Some benefits, but no long-term guarantees
Mr White said it was impossible to say whether university degrees were worth the money in the long term.
And that is all down to the data available on the job market.
“At the moment, there is no national, publicly available dataset that says, ‘five years, 10 years, 15 years post university, this is what you have achieved, this is how well employed you are, this is how much money you’re earning,'” he said.
“The logistics of capturing that information is quite difficult — it’s a work in progress.
“Being able to look back [and ask] how much money do you make, is that enough to justify how much you spent on university … that would be very valuable.”
But the Career Development Association of Australia’s (CDAA) president Wanda Hayes said there were some clear benefits enjoyed by university graduates.
“In reality a lot of graduates from university end up going into entry-level jobs that aren’t necessarily higher than they would have got without their degree,” she said.
“But we know that once you’re in [some organisations], there is a ceiling that you can pass through if you have a degree, which you can’t pass through if you don’t have a degree.”
Ms Hayes also said those with degrees generally had lower rates of unemployment and lower rates of underemployment across their working lives — meaning more money.
People with degrees generally have lower rates of unemployment and underemployment (ABC News: Isabel Dayman)
Other study options available
The education and career experts agree there is more to university than simply maximising your potential future income.
“I think there’s a myth in our society that a degree is an automatic ticket to a high-paying job, and that’s just not the case,” CDAA president Wanda Hayes said.
“A degree is very rarely enough to get you into a high-paying job — what gets you into those better quality and high-paying jobs is experience, and the right kind of attitude and personal qualities.”
“It may be a risk in some cases to take on a degree with no real idea of what you want to do with it — that is always going to be a financial risk.
“For young people who are not sure it may be worth doing something else before they start the degree.
“It’s more expensive to get a degree than to get work experience.”
University students graduate with an average debt of $20,000 to $30,000. (ABC News: Isabel Dayman)
So, are degrees worth the debt?
Mr White says yes — if you’re doing something you’re passionate about.
“I think it’s a question of students weighing up what they want out of a career as much as anything else, and starting salaries and graduate employment rates can’t be the be all and end all,” he said.
“If students are committed to what they want to do and they pick the right course with the right university, then absolutely it’s worth it.”
“If you’re going to university because Mum and Dad went, your friends are going, your older brother went, and you’ve got no reason to go there, then think about your other options because there are plenty of good vocational courses out there.”
Business and property graduate Michael said he was confident his degree would be worth every cent.
“To be a licensed property valuer, I must do the degree,” he explained.
“It’s one of the cheapest debts we can have in our lifetime … so it’s not much of a burden at all.”
Accounting graduate Natalie had different ideas.
“To be honest, I don’t think a lot of what we do at university is what we do in the workforce,” she said.
“I don’t think [the degree] is worth that much, but I don’t know, we’ll have to see what happens after this.”