Education Minister Dan Tehan has blamed his senior media adviser for a misleading media release which suggested humanities, tourism, creative arts and communications students had poor employment outcomes three years after finishing their degree.
The 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey - Longitudinal measured employment outcomes for 2017 graduates four months after graduation (short term) and three years after graduation (medium term).
Mr Tehan's original media release highlighted the study areas with the highest full-time employment rate three years after graduation - dentistry (98.3 per cent), medicine (97.3 per cent), engineering (95.4 per cent) and teaching (93.8 per cent).
It also highlighted four disciplines with the lowest graduate employment rates after three years, but incorrectly used the figures for employment after four months, which were up to 26 percentage points lower.
The correct employment rates after three years were 79.4 per cent for creative arts, 87 per cent for humanities, 84.6 per cent for tourism and 84.9 per cent for communications.
The release was in support of the Job-ready Graduates legislation, which the minister claimed would make it cheaper to study in areas of expected future job growth.
Under the package, future humanities students would pay $14,500 per year for their degree, an increase of 113 per cent on the current student contribution.
Mr Tehan said the error was made by his senior media adviser in preparing the media release.
"It was corrected online as soon as it was detected. The data in the online report was correct," he said.
A new version of the release was not sent to journalists.
Labor spokeswoman for education and training Tanya Plibersek said the communication was deceptive.
"Scott Morrison will stop at nothing to deceive people about his plan to make it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to uni," she said.
"It's about time the prime minister was honest. The truth is that the Liberals are jacking up fees for tens of thousands of students, with the cost of some degrees more than doubling."
The survey data revealed that Canberra-based universities had higher than average full-time employment rate for undergraduates in the medium term.
The top four universities on this measure were Australia Catholic University (95.5 per cent), Australian National University (95.2 per cent), University of Canberra (94.1 per cent) and Charles Sturt University (93.9 per cent), all of which have a campus presence in Canberra.
The medium term employment rate for all universities was 90.1 per cent.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said a university degree was was a strong foundation for a career, which is more likely to involve graduates moving between different jobs.
"It is interesting to note that in 2020, the overall employment rate for humanities, culture and social sciences was 87 per cent three years after completing their degree, the same rate for science and mathematics graduates," Ms Jackson said.