Longitudinal study of graduates

Richie Poulton
Richie Poulton
New Zealand university graduates will be the focus of a world-first comprehensive study, which aims to determine the ongoing effects of how university education shapes and influences lives.

The large-scale survey of about 14,000 graduates from New Zealand's eight universities will be carried out during the next decade by the National Centre for Lifecourse Research - a multidisciplinary group which has its headquarters at the University of Otago.

Research project leader Prof Richie Poulton said the survey would provide the most detailed picture, to date, about what happened to graduates after they left university.

Known as the Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand, the survey draws together research partnerships from universities around the country and has attracted core funding of about $650,000 from the Tertiary Education Commission, he said.

From next month until September, 14,000 final-year students, drawn from undergraduate and postgraduate levels, will be invited to complete a comprehensive online questionnaire. They will be representative of the approximately 40,000 students completing their studies at New Zealand universities this year.

The participants would be approached for follow-up surveys two, five and 10 years later, Prof Poulton said.

"We will learn a great deal about how their lives unfold, for instance, how careers develop, the university-related influences which have the greatest impact on employment success, when they begin to have families, where they live, the state of their finances, their health and their social relationships."

While similar studies had been undertaken in the United Kingdom and Canada, no other study had been as comprehensive, over a 10-year period, he said.

The survey, commissioned by Universities New Zealand, Te Pokai Tara, the representative body for the country's eight universities, replaces a previous survey, discontinued in 2008.

Under that survey, New Zealand university graduates, each year, were asked about their employment outcomes in the year after they graduated, Prof Poulton said.

Universities New Zealand chairman Derek McCormack said a longitudinal study was preferable to the previous annual survey.

"International evidence shows the greatest impacts of a university education become apparent over a period of years, rather than in the year immediately following graduation."

The new study was expected to provide a richness of data which had not been available before, he said. An understanding about the longer-term impact of study would be more valuable to both universities and policy makers.

"We will learn about less tangible aspects of post-university life, such as how their values, attitudes and behaviours evolve over time, and what contribution to broader society they make."

The expertise developed by the Dunedin-based lifecourse research centre in longitudinal studies had provided a foundation for developing the new study, with the experiences of the British and Canadian studies also considered.

A baseline report, outlining the results of the initial survey, will be released in February next year.

Graduate survey

• Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand (GLSNZ)

• 14,000 final-year students will be invited to join a multi-disciplinary survey group.

• Students will complete online questionnaire this year, and will be approached for follow-up surveys in 2013, 2016, 2021.

• Commissioned by Universities NZ and funded by Tertiary Education Commission.


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