When the time comes to pursue further education, it can be hard to know which way to go – university or TAFE. While a university degree is often seen as more prestigious than a Diploma or Certificate, gone are the days when having a degree automatically equalled employment – according to the latest Graduate Careers Australia study, only 68.1% of university graduates last year had found a full-time job four months after graduation.
One isn’t better or worse than the other when it comes to university or TAFE – they’re designed to complement each other, and whatever you choose will come down to your personal circumstances and aspirations.
TAFE focuses on vocational education, meaning you’ll gain skills for specific jobs. These tend to be hands-on skills, and TAFE courses usually involve a mandatory work placement to gain experience. Universities, on the other hand, are more broad and theoretical, teaching skills like critical thinking and problem solving. As some people say, ‘university teaches you how to think, not what to think.’ To gain relevant work experience, university students usually have to undertake an internship.
University entry relies on the ATAR score from final high school exams (or the equivalent in other countries). Each course has a different ATAR requirement. Non-school leavers can usually enter through other pathways.
There are usually no entry requirements for TAFE, especially at the Certificate level. Some Diplomas may need prior education or experience.
As mentioned above, 68.1% of university students had found a full-time job four months after graduation. However, in the general labour force, 96.8%% of bachelor degree holders were employed, suggesting that over time it does pay off.
TAFE has a better immediate employment rate of 77.6%, six months after graduation, according to NCVER. Interestingly, however, most of those TAFE students (71.3%) were also employed before training, suggesting many people are undergoing training as part of a workplace requirement, or to gain new skills to move up in their current jobs.
The average full-time starting salary for university graduates under 25 was $52 500. For TAFE graduates in their first full-time jobs, it was $46 200. For TAFE graduates who had been employed before completing their course, it was $57 400.
TAFE courses usually take one or two years, whereas bachelor degrees are three or four. So if you’d like to get out early and start earning, TAFE is for you, but if you’d like a more in-depth education then university might be a better choice.
There’s a lot of crossover between university and TAFE. Some people who don’t meet the entry requirements for a bachelor’s degree will do a TAFE course as a prerequisite. Likewise, some university graduates will choose to do a TAFE course to gain more specific job skills and boost their employment chances.
So when it comes down to deciding between university and TAFE, the choice is up to you! Make sure you talk to as many people as possible about how their study led into their work, to gain a perspective on what will be best for you. Career advisors at universities and TAFEs can also be helpful. If you already know what job you’d like, check some job advertisements for it and see what sort of qualifications are required by employers – bachelors, Diplomas or Certificates.