If you graduated in computer science last year and wanted a better-than-average starting salary, the federal government was the place to go, according to a new survey.

According to Graduate Careers Australia’s (GCA) Graduate Destination Survey, computer science graduates hired by the federal government attracted the highest salaries (AU$43,600), followed by those entering professional practice (AU$40,000) and those joining state governments (AU$39,000). But the large proportion of graduates going into the industrial/commercial sector only achieved an average salary of AU$37,000, dragging down the overall average to AU$38,000 — in line with the average for all disciplines.

Computer science graduates aged 25 and over fared better than their younger peers, regardless of whether or not they were going into their first full-time job. The 2001 cohort hit the peak of the tech boom and scored average salaries of AU$46,100 with full-time experience and a surprising AU$48,700 without. Since then, salaries have slipped back to AU$45,000 and AU$42,000 for these groups. Both figures are the same in 2004 as they were in 2003.

So how do computer science graduates compare with those from other disciplines? In 2004, the under-25s were ranked equal ninth in terms of median starting salary, the lowest since 1977.

There were more than twice as many males as females among computer science graduates (only engineering had a smaller proportion of females), but sex did not affect average salary as far as computer scientists were concerned. In general, male graduates still fared slightly better than females (AU$39,000 vs AU$38,000), “with the gap between male and female salary levels continuing to slowly diminish”.