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Why are more Australian professionals finding it a sound choice to head back to school?


With significant structural change sweeping across a number of Australian industries –manufacturing, motor vehicle manufacturing and mining to name a few – it’s little wonder why professionals from a variety of occupations are seeking strategies to safeguard their employment.

Postgraduate study is one of the first cards the savvy ones will be looking to play.

History has shown that when economic times are tough, even uncertain, people look to improve their skills, boost their knowledge and secure a competitive advantage against their peers, whether to improve their current prospects or to gain more traction in the jobs market if redundancy has already struck or looms ahead.

How the 2008 global financial crisis sent us back to school

On the back of the global financial crisis, we saw a spike of 6.5 per cent in postgraduate program enrolments in Australia, as well as growth in online education.

Research at that time, such as a Open Universities Australia study in 2008, found that more than half of the students surveyed felt it was more important than ever to take up study in light of the poor economic outlook, while IBISWorld reports reveal higher online education enrolments over that period as a result of job losses and professionals upgrading their skills for greater employment and security in a weaker job market.

Of course, the economy is not as bad as it was five years ago but there’s certainly a precedent for professionals seeking to better themselves, their value and their opportunities once an air of uncertainty creeps in – and the job losses at Telstra, Qantas and Australian car manufacturing plants will likely have many giving more thought to their own future in terms of employment.

Postgraduate study gives you more career options

Sometimes, widespread lay-offs or business closures prompt those in affected industries to change tack altogether, using tough times and fear of unemployment – or the harsh reality when it happens – not to upskill within their profession, but to seek transferrable skills to help them transition to another industry altogether.

With a qualification such as the Master of Business Administration, the leadership, negotiation, decision-making and problem solving skills are easily applicable across myriad industry sectors, which is why we often see professionals from one field undertaking the MBA program not just for promotions, but to help with the transition into different fields.

Some use the qualification as a stepping stone to working in a different region.

For example, the Torrens MBA, like most of our other postgraduate programs, has a specific focus on doing business in the Asia-Pacific region, which is appealing to those who currently work across the area or who would like to gain a role with more international exposure – especially in light of the high regard Asian employers place on MBA expertise.

More qualifications lead to more pay

Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data indicates almost double the number of people completing a postgraduate degree over the past decade, with more than 90 per cent of postgraduates in full-time employment soon after graduation on median salaries rising by more than seven per cent between 2010 and 2012 and continuing to rise each year.

While salaries aren’t the only driver of postgraduate study, it’s hard to ignore the fact that postgraduate salaries are higher than equivalent Bachelor degree salaries in every employment sector.

2012 data indicates that the median salary for Bachelor degree graduates in full-time employment is $66,000 per annum, compared with a median salary of $85,000 for full-time postgraduate qualified employees; with postgraduates in management and commerce disciplines attracting the highest median salaries ($108,300 for men, $92,300 for women).

But then again, postgraduates often have significant career experience behind them before enrolling so we can’t rule that out as a contributing factor.

All in all, with higher salaries certainly a likely outcome from postgraduate study – and significant scholarships available for students enrolling in Torrens’ online programs commencing in May – it has never been more apparent that, in an environment where many investment opportunities are up in the air, investing in postgraduate qualifications is looking like a sound decision indeed.

Professor Fred McDougall is the Vice-Chancellor and President of Australia’s 40th comprehensive university, Torrens University Australia – part of the Laureate International Universities network and a leader in innovative postgraduate study tailored to meet market demand. Fred was Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic) at the University of Adelaide, an appointment he held from 2005 until 2011. Previously he was the Foundation Professor of Management at the University, an appointment he has held since 1987, and Executive Dean of the Faculty of the Professions.