University education: an investment in your future

The cost of going to university can be a real obstacle. For some it’s simply a matter of lacking family resources to fund their studies, while for others the worry of getting into debt is a disincentive to enrol in the first instance.

However, the economic returns of higher and continuing education are unwavering – university graduates (especially those with postgraduate qualifications) continue to enjoy higher earnings than their non-graduate peers.

According to an 2017 OECD report, Australian men will gain an 8 per cent financial benefit from going to university, while the women do slightly better with a 9 per cent rate of return. This is true despite the same report showing that Australians pay among the highest tuition fees alongside other OECD countries like the UK and USA.

While education costs have been steadily climbing in Australia since the Whitlam government abolished university fees in 1974, so too have graduate wages.

University students will pay up to $3600 extra under the Turnbull government’s overhaul of the tertiary education sector, with repayment thresholds for student loans lowered to $42,000. While those figures can be daunting, if you’re thinking about upskilling and supercharging your stalled career through continuing education, consider that a university degree is worth $1,180,112 over the course of a lifetime.

There’s no doubt that the probabilities and possibilities of economic success of the better educated are rising. The 2017 OECD report figures show, “those who are left behind pay an increasing price, in terms of worsening employment and low wages.”

In weighing up the financial burden of higher education, more Australians are choosing to pursue a university degree. According to the Universities Australia Data Snapshot 2018 report, 39 per cent of 25-34-year-olds in Australia now have a bachelor degree or higher. And out of the diverse mix of 1.5 million students at Australia’s world class universities, the report states “over the last decade, the number of students from low Socio-Economic Status (SES) backgrounds has increased by more than 50 per cent.”

The return on investment from a university degree is far more than just financial. Higher and continuing education grows your mind. A university education is a gateway to creative and independent thought. Through exposure to innovative ideas, technology and various cultural perspectives, a degree allows students to discover and learn. You will learn how to think critically, reason analytically and gain personal growth. Continued higher education also helps you keep up with industry trends and changes.

According to the Universities Australia report by Deloitte Access Economics a university education “equips students with the knowledge and skills that allow them to make greater contributions to society; they generate and disseminate knowledge which enhances productivity and improves living standards; and they provide a myriad of broader community benefits.”

Similarly, a report from the College Board called, Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society found, “Adults with higher levels of education are more active citizens than others. In 2012, 42 per cent of four-year college graduates, 29 per cent of adults with some college or an associate degree, and 17 per cent of high school graduates volunteered for organisations.”

A US study published in the scientific journal of PLOS ONE found that people who receive higher education outlive those who do not.

One of the benefits of going to university is establishing professional connections through academic staff, industry professionals and your peers. There’s also a great chance that you will build international networks as the education of international students is now Australia’s 3rd largest export behind iron ore and coal according to the Universities Australia Data Snapshot 2018 report.

What our students want

I have always invested heavily in education that is worthwhile, not just a paper qualification (Boon Chong Kwok, 2018 Master of Rehabilitation student)

For Boon Chong Kwok, a 2018 student of the online Master of Rehabilitation Science course at the University of Melbourne, “cost has been a concern” in considering further study as he has, “never been on any scholarship or sponsorship for (his) formal education.”

Boon Chong Kwok, Master of Rehabilitation Science student.
Boon Chong Kwok, Master of Rehabilitation Science student

“I have delayed my studies for several years and the attraction of this course is the ability to pursue via distance learning so that I can still work and pay for the school fees.”

Despite the financial pressure, Singaporean-based Mr Kwok says, “I believe in working hard to pursue what we want in life – that is meaningful in our personal growth rather than material gains.”

Mr Kwok is pursuing a masters degree because it is a vital step for him in progressing his career. The physiotherapist with almost a decade of experience is hoping to be able to bridge to a PhD program under scholarship or sponsorship.

The benefits of higher and continuing education have been immediate for Mr Kwok. He says, “I feel that the course has helped me learn and re-learn information that’s valuable in improving health outcomes of patients and also enhance my present skills and knowledge in policy development.”

“The other strength of the course is the academic content and reputation of the university in transforming the traditional concept of education delivery that facilitates learning.”

“One of my mentors is a PhD graduate from the University of Melbourne, while another friend who migrated to Melbourne has a double masters and PhD with the university too. Given their capabilities and the outcomes these individuals have achieved after graduating from the university, it made me conclude that this is the university of choice in healthy learning and growth,” he adds.

Lei Chen

Lei Chen, is a Chinese-born Sydney-sider who’s currently studying the online Master of Ageing at the University of Melbourne and he believes he’s likely to yield more than just financial returns for investing in furthering his education.

Lei Chen, Master of Ageing student
Lei Chen, Master of Ageing student

“I have not calculated ROI per se in terms of how many years am I likely to earn back the university fee through increased future earning capacity. But I believe I will reap the rewards over the long term – even if not in a financial sense – definitely through other non-financial measures such as lower levels of stress, building high cognitive reserve, happier and stronger personal and social relationships/networks and, last but not the least, to allow me to age better and more gracefully.”

Mr Chen also states that there is immeasurable value in simply learning and expanding your knowledge.

“I think what's more important for me is just the habit of learning. I am able to appreciate the value and power of knowledge far better than when I was in undergraduate study or in my early working years.”

“For a complex social phenomenon such as an ageing society and the implications and opportunities it brings, the Master of Ageing course taught by the University of Melbourne I think is the best platform/place to learn,” he adds.

Sudesh Puran

For Sudesh Puran who works at the Competition Commission of Mauritius, the benefits obtained from studying the online Sudesh Puran, Graduate Diploma in Global Competition and Consumer Law student

Sudesh Puran, Graduate Diploma in Global Competition and Consumer Law student
Lei Chen, Master of Ageing student

Despite his years of experience with the Commission and working on several competition cases and market studies related to, inter alia, the banking, telecommunications, construction and FMCG sectors, Mr Puran says, he was “motivated to enrol for the course to learn competition law and share experiences
on its application in other jurisdictions.”

While he’s not having to pay the fees associated with furthering his education – as he is being sponsored by the Commission – Mr Puran says the decision to forgo time is an equally important investment to make.

“A personal decision of whether to sacrifice my off-work scarce hours was required. From that perspective, I would say that the professional enrichment more than outweighs the investment in terms of time and efforts.”

Kristie Smith

New Zealand born Kristie Smith moved to Australia in 2015 to “chase a change in career direction and to challenge” herself. She’s currently taking the online Applied Pathophysiology subject towards a Graduate Certificate in Nursing Practice (Acute and Complex Care) at the University of Melbourne.

Kristie Smith, Graduate Certificate in Nursing Practice
Kristie Smith, Graduate Certificate in Nursing Practice

For Ms Smith investing in continuing education is unquestionable, and she believes she’ll gain returns in several ways.

“I believe the return on my investment will not only be of benefit to my future and career satisfaction, but also to the patients I care for and employees I work for during my career as I plan to eventually use my knowledge, skills and experience such as that gained through studying at University of Melbourne to educate others, improve health outcomes for the population and maximise the effectiveness of resource utilisation in healthcare.”

Since moving to Australia the career-driven student who used to work as an emergency care registered nurse back home spent her first 10 months nursing and living in small rural Queensland hospitals. She describes the experience as “eye-opening, educational and unique.”

Career progression and satisfaction has always been very high on Ms Smith’s priority list.

“While admittedly I am free of some of the financial responsibilities others my age have, there was never any hesitance in paying the cost of upskilling or furthering my studies to work toward achieving my career goals.”