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University degrees are being ranked by officials according to their earning potential.
A Ministry of Education report, Moving On Up - What Young People Earn After Their Tertiary Education, compares what graduates earn after studying different subjects and at different levels in New Zealand.
It coincides with the launch of a tool on the careers.govt.nz website today that uses up-to-date tertiary qualifications data and information from Inland Revenue to give potential students a frank outlook of different careers.
Five years after leaving university, a medicine graduate is earning about three times the average $35,500 salary of a performing arts graduate, according to the report. An engineer earns $58,287.
Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said the new report and website offered important, real information about New Zealand's industries.
"The data highlights the large variation in earning potential for different types of graduates, with those studying in in-demand areas earning the most.
"What I think it will do is you will see a move away from fine arts and performing arts in to a stronger demand for more career-oriented areas."
He said it would be good for the economy, and said the higher level of study students completed, the better it was for their prospects and earnings.
Five years after finishing study, median earnings for young bachelor's graduates were 53 per cent higher than the national median wage, master's graduates were 86 per cent higher, and those with doctorates earned on average more than double the median wage. Those studying at higher levels were unlikely to be on a benefit after study.
However, Rory McCourt, Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association incoming president, said while a medical graduate's pay package might be three times more than a performing arts graduate, so was their student loan, and there was still no guarantee of jobs once they completed their degree.
He said the website was "either token or completely unimaginative", since it offered nothing new to students.
It was no secret that doctors earned more than $100,000, but they had large loans too, he said. "The challenge is making sure the jobs are there for people when they get out of it. Maybe we will have a glut of doctors by then."
It would not stem the tide of students heading over to Australia, and he wanted to see politicians focus on ensuring jobs were there for graduates.
"Government needs to get its act together and stop fiddling with a website while Rome burns."
Mr Joyce said while the saying "follow your dreams" was still relevant to some extent, there was a new realism about students making good choices, taking into account future earnings, and worldwide, industry competitiveness.
Even he was surprised by some of the margins in the data. "There's no doubt about it that a graduate with a medical degree is into a six-figure salary."
And despite higher student loans, they were the fastest in paying them off.
"Civil engineering graduates also obtain a premium in the job market, earning about $67,653 a year, 48 per cent more than language and literature or sport and recreation graduates."
Engineering and computer sciences had shortages in graduates, followed by construction trades needed in the Christchurch rebuild. There was currently a surplus of law and teaching graduates.
The report would complement a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report on the outlook for major occupations in the labour force, due out in February.
Labour tertiary education spokesman Grant Robertson said society needed a balance of workers, and university should not be treated as a "sausage factory" for the economy.
Median annual earnings of young domestic bachelors degree graduates five years after study
Engineering and related technologies: $58,287
Information technology: $56,958
Management and commerce: $53,791
Architecture and building: $50,597
Natural and physical sciences: $50,897
Agriculture, environmental and related studies: $49,157
Society and culture: $48,974
Creative arts: $42,575
- The Dominion Post