Funding source: Australian Research Council Linkage Scheme, Victorian Government, Graduate Careers Australia

Regional and rural Australia, like many other countries with widely dispersed populations, faces an uncertain future as its young people continue to migrate to urban areas for more learning, livelihood and lifestyle opportunities.

Until the late 20th century, Australia’s immigration policies encouraged regional growth with agricultural and infrastructure projects like the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric power scheme. In recent decades, our universities have attracted millions of international students; but like their Australian classmates they, too, are choosing to remain in cities and towns.

UQ’s Associate Professor Jonathan Corcoran and his team are building evidence that will inform future public policy for addressing the challenges of attracting and retaining highly skilled young people for the prosperity of rural Australia.

Their research draws on various micro datasets (cross-sectional and longitudinal), including Victoria’s On-Track dataset, the Graduate Destination Survey and the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth, to identify the migratory pathways that school leavers follow for education and employment.

Postcode data has been helpful for examining the spatial employment patterns of Australia's university graduates in non-urban locations. For example, analysing the employment status of 65,661 students six months after graduation revealed that personal and human capital characteristics (such as university attended and type of study) affect where graduates might relocate for employment.

The research has also found that recent immigration and visa policies for international students have not achieved their intended outcomes. Granting these students 18 months of full working rights following graduation has been linked to disadvantages such as lower average wages, fewer hours of work, and a greater likelihood of working outside their field (compared to their domestic counterparts).

“It’s essential that we identify which types of graduates choose to work where, so we can better understand the forces that are currently shaping the spatial distribution of human capital across regional Australia,” Dr Corcoran said.