The number of university students completing their studies within six years is at a record low, new federal government figures show.
Two out of three students finish their course within six years, while the numbers of those getting jobs after finishing study were also below the highs of the past decade.
The number of students finishing their course within four years – which has always been under 50 per cent – also dropped to record lows, continuing a decade-long slide.
A separate report shows graduates are still finding it tough to get jobs quickly after finishing their degrees.
Only 67.5 per cent – or just more than two in three – had a full-time job within four months, the lowest level on record and a significant drop after employment rates had appeared to have stabilised between 2010 and 2012.
However, 89.3 per cent of the same group of students had full-time jobs when checked on three years later – the highest outcome since 2013.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the new data shows universities and policymakers cannot be complacent.
“Our universities need to keep a laser focus on student outcomes,” he said.
With demand-driven funding – where the government pays for as many students as universities want to enrol – educators needed to make sure they were taking students into appropriate courses and giving them the right support.
However, the report released on Wednesday shows about one in three institutions actually lifted six-year completion rates for students who started in 2010, the first year of the demand-driven system, compared with 2009.
And nine institutions recorded their highest ever completion rates for that group.
Part of the Turnbull government’s stalled overhaul of universities would tie a portion of funding to improved student outcomes.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m besmirching all of Australia’s universities, many do a great job,” Senator Birmingham told ABC TV.
“But we want to make sure the incentives are there in terms of the payments they receive from government to really focus on lifting those student outcomes, because that’s about being fair to the students and giving them what they’re signing up to.”
The minister urged students to look at the data on the government’s QILT website to make sure they were heading into a course that would likely lead to a job.
HOW UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ARE FARING
* 66 per cent who started in 2010 completed degree within six years
* 44.2 per cent who started in 2012 completed within four years
* University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, ANU had six-year completion rates higher than 80 per cent
* University of New England, Federation University of Australia, Charles Darwin University, University of Divinity were below 50 per cent
* 67.5 per cent of graduates form 2014 in full-time jobs within four months
* 89.3 per cent of same in full-time jobs by 2017
* Medicine and pharmacy graduates most likely to have full-time work
* Creative arts, tourism, hospitality, personal services, sport and recreation, and science and maths graduates least likely to have full-time jobs