New research focusing on Indigenous Australian university graduates has found they now achieve comparable labour market outcomes to their non-Indigenous peers.
The results, to be published in the Australian Journal of Labour Economics, buck the trend reported in a number of previous studies on employment outcomes of Australia's Indigenous population.
The latest study, "Labour Market Performance of Indigenous Graduates in Australia: An Over-, Required and Under-education (ORU) Perspective" evaluated the employment outcomes of Indigenous graduates from all Australian universities, four months after graduation.
Indigenous graduates were found to be more likely to find jobs appropriate for their level of education, compared to non-Indigenous graduates. Furthermore, the majority of the Indigenous graduates did not experience any wage gap compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
The study's author, Dr Ian Li from The University of Western Australia's School of Population Health, said the finding supported the need to aim higher education policy at encouraging Indigenous participation and completion.
"Indigenous graduates are certainly holding their own when it comes to performance in the labour market four months after graduation," Dr Li said. "However, Indigenous people are under-represented in university completions, and more might be done to support Indigenous students.
The findings of the study also point to the fact that higher education completion has favourable impacts on earnings for Indigenous Australians, which is a step towards ‘closing the gap', particularly as economic outcomes are also linked to health and education, which are other areas of Indigenous disadvantage.
"Nevertheless, there remains some challenges and scope for further work," Dr Li said. "Bear in mind that the Indigenous graduates in the study have had to complete Year 12, apply for and secure places at university and then successfully complete university study. The Indigenous graduates in the study are therefore those who have already overcome several hurdles to reach where they are.
"What is also important to evaluate beyond the scope of this study are the outcomes of those who fail to successfully complete their university education, the reasons behind the failure to complete, and what can be done to address that."
The study also found that Indigenous graduates, who were on the lowest scale of the wage/ability distribution, experienced substantial earnings disadvantages, and this needed to be examined and addressed as well.
The study was presented at the 24th Australian Labour Market Research workshop held at the Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne in February this year, and will be published in a special issue of the Australian Journal of Labour Economics in 2014.