Increases in low SES uni participation, 1991-2011

Using the trend data from the chart below, it is often said that we are making little progress in increasing higher education participation for people from low SES backgrounds.

low SES trend

The chart shows domestic low SES students as a percentage of all domestic students. But the denominator is important: it means that low SES enrolment has to increase more quickly than enrolment generally for the percentage to go up.

A more meaningful indicator is low SES enrolment as a percentage of the relevant low SES population. This tells us whether people from low SES backgrounds are becoming more likely to attend university over time.

An interesting paper out from the Group of Eight today (disclosure: drawing on some of my work from a few years back) shows how, for the late teenage children of low SES workers, university attendance has become more likely over time.

For example, in 1991 16 per cent of the children of tradespeople were at university. Twenty years later that number was 26 per cent. The gaps between SES groups remain very wide, but with participation growth in the leading SES group, professionals, slowing down the gaps are not as large as they were in the past.

Census trends occupational partic

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Note: The data is drawn from the census, using 18 and 19 year olds living at home. At home is needed to determine parental occupation. According to the two latest censuses, about 80% of 18 year old university students and 70% of 19 year olds are living with their parents.

  1. There must be many confounding factors here, in addition to selecting only those living at home. How is the SES status changing? Are high SES children more inclined to take gap years or to study interstate or internationally? Which parent determines the SES status? Not sure the analysis is valid.

  2. Rod – The main point is the trends within the lower SES groups, where the occupational categories are reasonably stable. As with any survey research, it is quite possible that the given numbers are not precisely right. The principal issue here is the living at home data restriction, but for the broad trend not to be right there would have to have been a very big shift from low SES uni students living out of home to living at home. That is not impossible, but I think the far more likely conclusion is that as overall participation rates have increased so too have those from low SES backgrounds.

    There are overall participation rates at page 22 of this report.

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