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In defence of good research wherever it is found

21 July 2015

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Conor King2In response to commentary deprecating The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne, Conor King, the Executive Director of the Innovative Research Universities Group, provides his perspective on the valuable insight which the Survey presents. 

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Hilda2The commentary on The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12 by Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at The University of Melbourne has been sidetracked by one plausible statistic, neglecting the full import of the Survey.

The Survey confirms the earning value from higher levels of education, particularly for women.  It shows that, for women, having a higher education degree is important for the likelihood of employment.  That is not so for men who tend to be employed but with lower earnings if not a graduate.

Those outcomes are not necessarily new but since they based on a cohort covering multiple generations they underpin the value from expanding the take up of higher education, a core mission of IRU members.

The new aspect coming from the survey is the hint that school results let alone intelligence are not long term strongly correlated with income. Rather it is the fact of education.

The report’s tables of graduate earnings include two versions adjusted and not adjusted for cognitive ability (based on tests which HILDA administers to its participants).  The interesting point is that the results do not alter much when adjusted for those tests.  My reading is that the report supports arguments that end of school capability does not carry through to later year outcomes, at least if measured by income.  This is a further blow to the use of the ATAR as a valid sorting mechanism for excluding applicants when places in a course have been limited.

In short while some like to argue it is not where you study but what you study, the Survey shows that what matters is that you do study.  It is further confirmation of the drive since WWII to expand take up of higher education, in particular the sense of the Dawkins reforms whose graduates make up much of the HILDA cohort.  It is too early to test whether the expansion since 2009 through demand driven funding will show the same outcome but nothing in the results suggests the contrary.

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