News & Opinion

Do University Rankings Still Matter?

A 2014-15 report by the Grattan Institute suggested the university you attend doesn’t make that much difference to your future salary. At the time there was a bit of backlash by those who thought the prestige of your university still does matters.

I went to a group of eight ‘sandstone’ university and loved every minute of it. I made lots of friends and was involved in campus events, culture, and there was always something happening. I later attended a technical university which I mostly enjoyed, although as I only attended for class I didn’t make many mates, so I didn’t notice as much culture.

But if we set aside the universities cultures for a second, I honestly believe I got great educations from both, yes even the technical one which doesn’t rank well internationally… or locally, really.

However, I can tell you straight up, going to university didn’t help me get a job. Hell, not even all the internships in the world helped me get a job. Because let’s face it,  in certain fields there are too many of us coming out of university and not enough jobs to go around. So does your ATAR still matter? Does the university you go to matter? Does going to a sandstone put you ahead of the pack like it used to?

Started From The Bottom

I’m not suggesting we stop going to university, of course. University is there for those who want to go and for those who don’t there’s a thousand other options, including TAFE, apprenticeships and the good old fashioned way of starting at the bottom and working your way up.

I work in IT and the people I work with are highly intelligent, highly skilled and incredibly detail-oriented. There’s the boy who can code in his sleep, the guy who casually drops that he just ‘wrote a script’ to fix an issue, the girl who manages our entire communications system and the 21 year old kid prodigy that you thought only existed in movies. Yet if you look at where they studied, you’ll see quite the cross-section of universities, from sandstone University of Sydney to ‘sorry, where’s that?’ University of Western Sydney. If you look further, you’ll even find a few of people who didn’t even study, they just learnt on the job.

It turns out, the data agrees with me – to a certain extent. The Grattan Institute’s report suggests that it doesn’t matter what university you go to. This is despite the higher entrance scores required to go to a sandstone and that sandstone universities continually outrank their technical counterparts in international rankings.

What seems to be the case is that research-based prestige, which is how universities are ranked, doesn’t seem to affect starting salaries or long term income in Australia in the same way it does overseas, at least for those of us who only hold a Bachelors.

Of course, the study is quick to point out that graduates from suburban and regional universities normally don’t fair quite as well as their technical and sandstone cousins (sorry University of Western Sydney, I spoke too soon!). But could there be more at play? After all, technical and sandstone universities tend to be centrally located and attract kids from higher socio-economic areas and it’s well known that a silver spoon upbringing can (but not always) give you a head start.

It’s What You Study Not Where You Study

Most of what the report said, in my opinion, is pretty much common sense: commerce, engineering, medical and IT students are, as a general rule, usually going to end up earning more than those who do an arts degree, regardless of what university you go to.

High school graduates will continue to go to universities in droves and wherever life leads them after that, well that’s up to them. It’s our job to ensure university doesn’t become deregulated by the government and remains a solid option for future generations.

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