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.