LearningUniversityVocational Education and Training

Are you better off at uni or at TAFE?

Every now and again a report is released which makes a bold claim about your prospects, should you choose a certain path after school. For a few days, the media make a big fuss and talk about it, then we all go back to normal.

But sometimes, students see this news and it makes them change their decisions, even if it didn’t really apply to them.

If you’ve seen the latest news and wondered whether you’d be better off at uni or TAFE, then you need to read on.


The report is only applicable to some people

Specifically, male students with lower ATARs (65 or lower).

Sometimes, these students choose generic and incredibly popular science or humanities degrees at university, then struggle to find work related to their qualification after graduation. Students with similar ATARs who choose a vocational qualification instead often find it easier to get and keep a job, and they also earn more money on average.

Female students with the same ATARs, or students of either sex with higher ATARs are usually better off at university.


You need to apply this knowledge to your specific situation

Even if you’re a boy who’s expecting an ATAR of around 65, this report doesn’t mean you should definitely go to TAFE. In the same way, if you’re a girl or expecting and ATAR of 85, university is may not be the best option for you.

The evidence put together by the Grattan Institute suggests that boys who chose vocational diplomas in fields such as engineering, commerce or construction could earn more over their lifetime than university graduates from popular and non-specific degrees, such as science or humanities.

But you can’t just compare these pathways and say; ‘pick one’. They suit different people, with different interests and skill sets.

Someone who thrives in vocational construction may struggle in an English degree or vice versa – you need to think about what you want, not just which job earns more.


It’s about knowing where you sit

University students are mostly mid-to-high ATAR students – ATAR of 60 or more. Vocational students on average have ATARs between 45 and 80, with the median ATAR hovering around 60.

If you’re expecting an ATAR of 65, then you need to know that at university your ATAR will put you at the lower end of the cohort, but if you choose vocational education you’ll be in the middle or above average.

And while some students excel at uni after struggling at school, on average university students with lower ATARs have higher drop-out rates, poorer graduate outcomes, and lower lifetime earnings, for example; “among low-ATAR science and humanities graduates, only about 20 per cent find professional employment.”

Note: Your ATAR is just a number, and doesn’t dictate how you perform once school is over – plenty of students with ATARs of 90+ drop out of uni, and others with ATARs in the 60’s and 70’s go on to do incredibly well.


Does this mean I shouldn’t go to university?

Not at all.

But if you’re only going to uni because you think it’ll help you earn more money, then you need to do more research.

The advice in the report is general advice only, and based on averages. If you really want to go to uni for whatever reason and you can get in, then go.

Choosing where to study, what to study, or if you should study at all after school is a complex decision and you have a lot of options, which is why we recommend you do your research before you apply for anything. Try to find a course that interests you in an in-demand field, or back yourself up with a flexible degree that gives you options.


Why do people tell me to go to uni, if TAFE is a good option?

There are lots of reasons – university has been seen as a ‘prestigious’ option for a long time, and your parents or teachers may feel it gives you a better chance of success in the long run.

They may believe you will always earn more if you have a university degree, and while this can be true in some instances it’s not always the case.

Additionally, there is a clear funding structure for university, but the vocational funding system is complex and can be frustrating. You could end up paying much more (or less) for the same vocational qualification, depending on where you study, and you may find it difficult to secure financial support if you’re on a low-income.


How come people with vocational qualifications can earn more?

Right now, we have a skills shortage in some industries, which means there are not enough people to fill the jobs and employers have to pay more to recruit people.

The number of university graduates has been rising for quite a few years, but the percentage of vocational graduates has remained pretty much the same since the 1980’s.

All this means that there are not enough tradies and vocational graduates, but too many university graduates, so some people with vocational qualifications can demand more money when some uni grads struggle to find work.


How can I work out what to do?

Anyone considering university should agree with these statements:

  1. I want to go to university to gain skills and knowledge
  2. I have a clear idea of what I’m going to do after my degree is finished
  3. I know how much demand there is for jobs in my chosen field, I know the average income, and I’m ok with both
  4. I’m not just going to make someone else happy
  5. I’m not just going because I don’t know what else to do

If that’s the case for you, then you should seriously consider uni.

If these statements don’t ring true for you then we recommend you investigate other options, including vocational education.


You can find the full report from the Grattan Institute here.

Back to top button