Job prospects for Australian university graduates have weakened to their lowest level in three decades as the economy falters, but having a degree remains a big advantage for job seekers, data shows.
A survey of 113,000 graduates found that 68 per cent were in full-time work within four months of their course ending, down from over 80 per cent during the 2000s.
The result was the lowest level since the poll started in 1982. The average starting salary for graduates with bachelor's degrees stood at A$52,500 (S$52,500) - the same as two years ago.
Graduate Careers Australia, the non-profit organisation that conducted the survey, said graduates were finding it harder to get jobs because of the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath.
It said the immediate impact of the crisis was not as severe as Australia's recession in the 1990s but the effects had been longer-lasting. "Continuing labour market uncertainty amongst graduate recruiters has seen graduate intakes remain conservative," the organisation said.
JOBS TO BE FOUND
It is certainly tough times for new graduates, but it is not like there are no jobs.
MR BRUCE GUTHRIE, a Graduate Careers Australia strategy and policy adviser
It pointed to a sharp drop in Australia's mining exports, weaker consumer confidence, workforce globalisation and offshoring, slowing growth in China and the Greek debt crisis as factors.
Analysts said the worsening news for graduates reflected a recent slowdown in the nation's economy.
"It is certainly tough times for new graduates, but it is not like there are no jobs," Mr Bruce Guthrie, a strategy and policy adviser at Graduate Careers Australia, told The Straits Times.
But government figures showed having a degree is still a big advantage. About 3 per cent of graduates were unemployed last year compared with 8 per cent of those without a post-school qualification. And government projections say job growth for graduates will increase about a third quicker than that for the overall population over the next five years.
The survey found the seven highest-paid graduate cohorts were those with degrees in dentistry, with a salary of A$75,000, followed by optometry (A$70,000), engineering (A$62,000), earth sciences, mathematics and medicine (A$60,000) and education (A$59,000).
Australia has avoided recession longer than any other advanced nation, with more than 24 straight years of growth.
The strong economy was buoyed by a China-fuelled mining boom and has effectively meant that an entire generation has known nothing but growth.
But the mining boom has begun to fade and public debt has surged.
"For the first time in a long time, Australia is on the wrong side of global growth," said Mr Chad Padowitz of Wingate Asset Management.
"Everything here is going to be much tougher than before and compared to the rest of the world."
Despite the worsening outlook, the news is not all bad. Unemployment in Australia increased slightly to 6 per cent in June, but did not rise as steeply as predicted.
And high numbers of graduates are finding jobs within three years even if they cannot find work immediately. The survey showed that about 90 per cent of graduates in recent years found full-time jobs within three years of finishing degrees.