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Does it really matter where you study?

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This report compares the earnings of people who have completed a bachelors degree at a university with the earnings those who completed a similar qualification at a polytechnic.

Author(s): Roger Smyth, Jamie Hyatt, Bhaskaran Nair and Warren Smart [Ministry of Education]

Date Published: March 2009

The key finding of the report is that there is no evidence to substantiate claims of labour market discrimination against polytechnic degrees.  In particular:
  • There is no discrimination at the point of entry into the labour market – the median earnings of those entering the workforce with a bachelors degree from a polytechnic are roughly the same as those with a university bachelors degree.
  • Over time, university graduates gain a modest margin over polytechnic graduates.
  • In many areas where the polytechnics have specialised in degree teaching – business, computing and engineering – the differences are very slight and in some fields, polytechnic graduates earn more than university graduates on average. 
  • University graduates tend to predominate at the upper ends of the earnings distribution – bachelors graduates with the highest earnings are more likely to have taken their degree at a university. 
The causes of the differences in earnings between polytechnic and university graduates are not known for sure.  The reasons may include the following:
  • university bachelors students may be better prepared academically for study – either through their school performance or through innate ability;
  • polytechnics may have prepared their graduates better for the workforce, while university graduates reveal their skills more slowly;
  • in some fields, polytechnic bachelors degrees have been concentrated in occupations that traditionally attract lower salaries.  

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