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.
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.
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.
My new Grattan report, Graduate Winners: Assessing the public and private benefits of higher education was released tonight (Canberra Times covering it already).
The basic argument is that given high private benefits, higher education will generally be produced with or without a tuition subsidy. Therefore we can start phasing down tuition subsidies. I suggest 50% over 4 years for most disciplines.
The usual reaction to such suggestions is that the low SES people in particular will be put off higher education. I report the contrary Australian evidence. There is interesting English evidence in this report. What the English have done is far more radical than anything I am suggesting. Except for the clinical and lab subjects, they haven’t cut 50% over 4 years. They have cut 100% over 1 year. Combined with some scope for overall funding increases for universities, some student charges will nearly triple.
For the school leaver group, overall demand dropped by one percentage point of the age cohort compared to 2011, or about 15,000 people (like Australia before 2012, the UK has a capped system with demand exceeding supply, so this will have no effect on the total number of students). Read more »
As education minister, Julia Gillard set a target of 20% of undergraduate university students coming from the lowest 25% of SES backgrounds by 2020. Some enrolment statistics released last week showed a 0.30 percentage point gain between 2009 and 2010 to reach 16.47%. This is the biggest increase since this time series began in 2001.
The figure below shows that if this growth rate was maintained for the decade, the target would come close to being met. On the other hand, if the growth rate was the average of 2009 and 2010 the target would be missed by a largish margin.
Which scenario is more likely? At least in the short term, there is a good chance that strong growth will continue. For commencing students, there was a .64 percentage point gain, so as this cohort moves through the system the low SES share will expand. We don’t have any detailed 2011 data yet, but with some expected additional growth in overall numbers I would anticipate that low SES numbers will again improve. Read more »