Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Secrets life of graduates after university revealed

Life after uni can mean more wealth and health, but challenges remain.
Asked whether they would choose the same university again if they were starting over, 86.6 per cent said they definitely or probably would. Photo / Getty Images
Asked whether they would choose the same university again if they were starting over, 86.6 per cent said they definitely or probably would. Photo / Getty Images

A quarter of New Zealand's university graduates say they probably wouldn't take the same course again - and one in eight would go to a different university.

Uni graduates are more likely than others in their age group to be working, earning big incomes and living in Auckland and Wellington.

They are less likely than their peers to smoke cigarettes or cannabis, but are more likely to binge drink.

This picture of a relatively successful but not entirely happy group emerges from the country's first longitudinal study of graduates following 8700 people who graduated from NZ universities in 2011.

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The first report gives a snapshot of their lives in 2014, 2 years later.

Overall they are much more satisfied with their lives than others in their age group. Asked to rate their satisfaction with "the way your life has turned out so far" on a 10-point scale, 53 per cent ticked 9 or 10, compared with only 39 per cent of all New Zealanders aged 25 to 34.

Three-quarters said their "overall experience at university" met their expectations.

Asked, if they could start over again, would they choose to enrol in the same qualification, 74.9 per cent said they probably or definitely would. But 25.1 per cent said they would not.

An Auckland University expert on the economics of education, Professor Sholeh Maani, said she would have expected more to have changed their minds about what they studied.

"We do have a flexible system where people can change their major within their years of study. In some other countries there is a system that makes it difficult to change," she said.

Asked whether they would choose the same university again if they were starting over, 86.6 per cent said they definitely or probably would.

AUT student Sam Parsons, halfway through a five-year conjoint law and communications degree, was not surprised by that. "I'm surprised it's not more ... I have a lot of mates that would say the student culture isn't as interesting in Auckland."

Parsons, 20, also thought the number who wanted to switch qualifications would be higher. "Often people go into degrees because of pressures from family expectations ... People don't quite know what they're getting themselves into."

But Parsons himself is satisfied with his chosen field. "My degree is five years all up, but so many people say it's worth it. The more you put in, the more you'll reap from it."

Four-fifths (81 per cent) of the graduates were employed and only 2.7 per cent were jobless, compared with 77 per cent and 6.4 per cent of the whole 25-29 age group.

But 34 per cent of the graduates had experienced unemployment since they graduated, including 10 per cent who were unemployed for at least six months. Only 64 per cent said the work they were now doing was related to their field of study.

On average, the graduates are good earners. Two-fifths (41 per cent) earned over $50,000 a year, compared with only 25 per cent of the total 25-29 age group.

Surprisingly few (13.7 per cent) admitted to smoking cannabis in the past year, compared with 18 per cent of the 25-34 age group.

Only 7 per cent smoked cigarettes, compared with 23 per cent of their age group.

But 30 per cent of the graduates, against only 25 per cent of their peer group, binge-drink six or more standard drinks at least once a month.

Two-thirds of the graduates were in a relationship and 27 per cent had children, but 31 per cent were single.

For the first time, the study followed up international students as well as domestic graduates from NZ universities. It found that 48 per cent of international students had returned to their countries of origin, 44 per cent were still in New Zealand and 9 per cent had moved to another country such as Australia.

Surprisingly few (14.5 per cent) of the domestic graduates were living overseas 2 years after graduating.

But those still in NZ were concentrated in Auckland (39 per cent) and Wellington (19 per cent). For comparison, Auckland has only 33 per cent of the total NZ population, and Wellington 11 per cent.

National student president Linsey Higgins said other surveys had also found more graduates were staying at home because they now have to pay interest on student loans if they stay out of NZ for six months. "Before that you had up to three years."

Holding their own

• 80% of graduates say getting a degree is worth the effort.
• 81% have a job. The rest are still studying, travelling, or raising kids. Just 2.7 per cent are unemployed.
• 89% describe their health as good or better.
Source: Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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