Higher Ed Research at AFR Higher Education Summit

At this year’s AFR Higher Education Summit, Pearson Asia Pacific Managing Director, David Barnett, shared findings on a new study, from a Higher Education learner's perspective, on skills, knowledge and employability. We commissioned Lonergan Research to conduct a survey of Australian and International students, both current and recent graduates. We wanted to hear from students and graduates - they have an essential voice in this conversation and are too-often overlooked.

Who did we survey?

418 students
» 300 domestic
» 118 international

475 graduates
» 150 graduates looking for their first job
» 153 graduates employed in first job
» 154 graduates either unemployed or looking for a career change.

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The expectation gap


6 in 10 students feel they are gaining all knowledge and skills needed for their future job and career and feel confident that they will acquire the relevant skills required to find a paid job in their chosen field. However, although not significant, confidence in course outcomes drops noticeably after the first year at university. Students may be entering the tertiary system with the assumption that their courses are designed to teach specific skills and knowledge for their chosen career.

Are student expectations heightened during the transition from school to university but their first year reality doesn’t match?

Graduate and Learner Skills


27 per cent say yes they have the skills, 51 per cent say they gained some skills and 22 per cent they didn't acquire any at all. The data is not surprising as students may be entering a system with inflated expectations that their degree is designed around building work-specific knowledge and skills.

Perceptions of the role of universities have changed than historically defined which may have led to students and graduates reflecting on a system dealing with fundamental change, all the while trying to navigate their own issues, such as ensuring they are getting enough return on their investment of time and money.

Skills lacking from courses?

Turning out employable students is a top priority for universities, but for how long should they be responsible for a graduate’s employability? The nature of the workforce is changing so rapidly that continual skills and knowledge refresh is required.

Skills students are lacking

Courses are, in some cases, not pitched to any type of work. In fact, very few are designed around employability in the first place and many are struggling to reverse-engineer an ‘employability narrative’. If a choice has to be made, where should tertiary institutions set their ‘employability’ sights? Entry-level, second job, mid-career? The idea of ‘skills-refresh’ is very relevant. Workers of the future will need to constantly update and learn new skills.

Post-graduate is not the answer and should institutions be looking at the concept of nano-degrees (1-2 years) allow students to obtain employment and return back to university for skills refresh to meet the ever changing workforce landscape.

Automation and Robotics

Out of the students and graduates surveyed about a third of them were not concerned about the threat of automation to their job.

Apathy towards automation

As a general observation, automation is more a fear of those in mid- to late-career, as it is their world that has the most potential for immediate disruption.

A lot of work has been done in this space. This includes the landmark Oxford study modelling the threat of automation to professional jobs in 2013, to this year’s practical guide to future jobs from Foundation for Young Australians.

Stay tuned for the full report!

The picture from Australian and international students and graduates is mixed - mostly optimistic and positive from students and waning in confidence and gratitude to universities as they enter into their first and second careers.

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