Student Outcomes Survey FAQs

20 May 2016

What is the survey?

The Student Outcomes Survey (SOS) is an annual survey of students who successfully completed some vocational training in Australia. The survey has been conducted annually by the NCVER since 1997.

Who is doing the survey?

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) - a not-for-profit company owned by the State, Territory and Federal ministers responsible for vocational education and training. NCVER collects information and provides research on vocational education and training in Australia to governments, the training sector, industry and the community.

Australian Government Department of Education and Training - the government department funding the survey. They will use the results to develop government policy to help employers and industry.

The Social Research Centre - a national market and social research company that conducts the survey on NCVER's behalf.

Why is it conducted?

The aim of the Student Outcomes Survey is to improve the economic and social outcomes of students who undertake vocational education and training (VET). This is achieved by providing the VET sector with information on the:

  • outcomes from training (for example, employment and further study outcomes)
  • relevance of the training
  • benefits of the training
  • satisfaction with the training
  • reasons for not continuing the training (where applicable).

The information is used by national and state/territory bodies, along with local training providers, to ensure vocational training is of high quality and relevant to Australian workplaces. The survey highlights both the positive and negative outcomes from training and monitors the effectiveness of the VET system. The information collected assists in administering, planning, and evaluating the VET system.

Who is included and when?

Who is included in the survey?

The survey targets people who completed recognised vocational training in the previous calendar year.

Prior to 2016, the survey covered students who completed training in the government-funded VET system. Government-funded VET is broadly defined as all activity delivered by government providers and government-funded activity delivered by community education and other registered providers. 

In 2016, the survey is expanding to include a sample of graduates from private training providers who either paid for their training themselves or whose employer paid for the training (known as fee-for-service training). 

Survey invitations are mailed each year to:

Graduates: Students who gained a qualification through their training.

Qualifications include:

  • Bachelor's Degree or higher
  • Advanced Diploma
  • Certificate IV
  • Certificate III
  • Certificate II
  • Certificate I

Subject completers: Students who successfully completed part of a course (at least one subject) without gaining a qualification and left the VET system.

Both graduates and subject completers must have:

  • had an Australian address as their usual address
  • undertaken vocational training, excluding recreational or hobby courses.

When is the survey conducted?

The survey cycle begins in March and has three main stages: project preparation, fieldwork, and data analysis and reporting.

Project preparation (March - last Friday in May)

  • NCVER randomly selects the sample of students (graduates and potential subject completers) stratified by age, field of education and training provider.Contact details of selected students are then provided directly to the contractor by state training authorities or the Unique Student Identifiers Office. At no time do NCVER staff have access to students' contact details.

Fieldwork (Last Friday in May - September)

  • A personalised covering letter including an information page is mailed at the end of May each year. The letter includes a link to the online questionnaire along with a unique login code and asks participants to complete the survey online. Those with email addresses are also emailed the details with a clickable link to the survey.
  • A reminder/thank-you postcard is mailed to all participants around a week later.
  • Emails and SMS reminders are sent to those who haven’t responded to the survey at various times.

  • Those who have not completed the survey after around 4 weeks are sent a hard copy questionnaire with a reply paid envelope to encourage completion.
  • Telephone interviews are conducted with a selection of those who haven't responded from mid July.

Data analysis and reporting (October - December)

  • After completion of fieldwork, quality checks are conducted and data are analysed.

What is available?

In early December, the survey results are released in the form of a summary publication and data products, such as excel data tables. The publication and data products present national and state/territory level findings. 

The following supporting/supplementary information is also provided:

  • Technical notes
  • Terms and definitions
  • Primary approach letter
  • Questionnaire
  • Data dictionary

All products are available free of charge on NCVER's portal at :

Requests for more detailed statistical information or further information about the Student Outcomes Survey can be made to:

(08) 8230 8400

A charge will be generally made by the NCVER for more complex requests for information. See the data access and charging policy

Additional information is made available to various stakeholders including the Australian Department of Education and Training and the States/Territories.

How has the survey changed over the years?

During 1995, 1997 and 1998 the survey was known as the Graduate Destination Survey. From 1999 onwards the survey was known as the Student Outcomes Survey.

1995 (conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics), 1997, and 1998

  • A census of TAFE graduates with a qualification involving at least 200 hours or one semester of training.


  • A census of graduates with a qualification involving at least 200 hours or one semester of training.
  • A small sample survey of subject completers was introduced. Separate questionnaires were used for graduates and subject completers.
  • The survey was expanded to include students from TAFE, community education providers, private training providers and other government providers.
  • Separate questionnaires were used for TAFE, private training providers and community education providers.

  • Only information on TAFE students was published.

2000, 2001, and 2002

  • A sample survey of graduates and subject completers.
  • For graduates, the minimum training length condition was removed.
  • Separate questionnaires continued to be used for graduates and subject completers.


  • The option to complete survey via the internet was introduced.
  • For the first time participants who identified themselves as graduates in the subject completer component were included in the graduate segment for reporting. Previously responses of these people were collected but not used in reporting. At the aggregate level, this change makes no difference, but for sub-populations the effect may be greater; therefore caution is required in making comparisons with results published in previous years.


  • For the first time the same questionnaire was used for graduates and subject completers.


  • Information on government-funded students from community education and private training providers was published for the first time.

  • The same questionnaire was used for students from TAFE and private training providers. A separate questionnaire was used for students from community and education providers.


  • No changes were made 


  • A new recognition of prior learning (RPL) question was included in the survey replacing the one used previously.


  • No changes were made


  • For the first time those with email addresses were invited to complete the survey online via email and/or a primary approach letter rather than being sent a hard copy questionnaire.


  • For the first time ALL respondents received a primary approach letter inviting them to complete the survey online at the first mailing, rather than a hard copy questionnaire. As in previous years, those with an email address also received an email invite. Hard copy questionnaires were only sent to those who did not complete online by a certain date.
  • Improvements were made to the classification of graduates and subject completers see An analysis of self-reported graduates. Not all students who identified themselves as graduates in the subject completer sample were reported in the graduate segment (as per the change made in 2003). These students were modelled to determine eligibility for the qualification. This improvement was applied to data from previous years to maintain the time series.


  • Rather than proportional sampling an improved sampling method was used that aims to achieve balanced sampling errors across institute for the main survey variable "labour force status after training".


  • The graduate sample was increased in order to provide estimates at an individual course level, for courses with a population of 300 or more.


  • Survey responses from fee-for-service students from community education providers were excluded from reporting and the summary publication was renamed to Government-funded student outcomes. Data have been backdated to 2006.


  • The Student Outcomes Survey expanded to include graduates from private training providers who either paid for their training themselves or whose employer paid for the training. Previously, only students who received government funding were included in the survey. NCVER will maintain the Government-funded student outcomes reporting series in 2016 and will separately report on the outcomes for all graduates in a new publication.

  • The questionnaire was revised to a shorter, more user friendly version that can be used on mobile devices. This questionnaire was implemented in 2016 for all students (TAFE, private training providers and community education providers).