Employers are far more happy with graduates from smaller universities than with those from the bigger "group of eight" institutions, with students from the University of Wollongong receiving the highest satisfaction ratings in NSW, a new national survey has found.
Graduates from James Cook University in Queensland received the highest satisfaction ratings in Australia.
The Department of Education and Training's 2017 Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS), which received responses from more than 4300 workplace supervisors of recent graduates, also found that only 56 per cent of university graduates and 64 per cent of their employers think university degrees are important or very important to their current jobs.
When broken down by institution, 90.6 per cent of the 6800 employers surveyed in 2016 and 2017 said they were satisfied overall with graduates from James Cook University, followed by 89.1 per cent for the University of Notre Dame Australia, which has campuses in Western Australia and NSW, and 88.8 per cent for the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Among NSW-only institutions, the University of Wollongong (UOW), which draws many students from the St George and Sutherland Shire areas, was highest ranked in fifth place, with 88.1 per cent of employers reporting overall satisfaction with its graduates.
These latest results reaffirm other strong indicators for UOW.
National statistics released in November ranked UOW seventh in Australia for student completion rates, making it one of only three universities in NSW and five nationally achieving a completion rate in excess of 75 per cent in all of the six year evaluation periods included in the report.
UOW is also Australia’s only publicly funded university to achieve five stars in all student experience measures in the 2018 Good Universities Guide.
UOW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings, CBE, attributes the University’s positive results to its longstanding focus on producing workforce-ready graduates who are highly sought after by employers.
“The University of Wollongong has long had a strong focus on preparing our students for a rapidly evolving global workplace, which demands far more from graduates than theoretical knowledge alone,” Professor Wellings said.
“Our academics are attuned to the needs of modern workplaces and our personalised approach to teaching encourages students to challenge their existing thinking, embrace new ideas, work collaboratively and be innovative as they discover their own sense of purpose, which drives them toward successful careers.”
Steve Shepherd, chief executive of career coaching firm TwoPointZero, said many smaller universities across the country are outperforming their larger counterparts in ensuring graduates are prepared for the workforce.
"In comparison to sandstone universities, we've seen that some of the other universities have got a very strong focus on employer connection and are really trying to look at how they can add value to their degrees," Mr Shepherd said.
"In 2018, the name is becoming less important in employers' eyes, and that's showing in the results."
Among NSW universities, the University of Wollongong was followed by Western Sydney University, ranked 10th, with 85.8 per cent of employers satisfied with its graduates, Charles Sturt University, ranked 12th, with an employer satisfaction rate of 85.5 per cent, and the University of NSW, in 14th place, with 84.9 per cent of employers rating its graduates favourably.
Meanwhile, a number of universities received employer ratings below the total university satisfaction rating of 84 per cent, including the University of Sydney, with 82.4 per cent of employers rating its graduates favourably.
The University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University were also below average, with employer satisfaction ratings of 81.8 per cent and 80.7 per cent respectively.
Only 77.4 per cent of employers were satisfied with graduates from the lowest-ranked institution, the University of Southern Queensland.
There were also significant differences in how important various degrees were perceived as being, with only 45.2 per cent of the 4300 supervisors surveyed in 2017 reporting that information technology degrees were important or very important to graduates' current jobs.
Similarly, only 47.6 per cent of employers said management and commerce degrees and creative arts degrees were important or very important.
In comparison, more than 78 per cent of employers said health degrees and education degrees were important to graduates' current jobs.