Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education examines trends in higher education undergraduate enrolments in Australia between 2011 and 2016. This six-year period has been a time of marked change in Australian higher education, with the demand-driven system (DDS) increasing overall student numbers, while programs such as the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) encouraged equity group participation, with their numbers increasing at a rate either proximate or greater than that seen overall.
As a result, in 2016 domestic undergraduate enrolments totaled 730,797 among public universities (Table A providers). This represents an increase in enrolments of 21.8 per cent since 2011, and is testament to the influence policy has had in expanding undergraduate education over such as short period. This expansion was accompanied by considerably higher growth in several equity groups, notably low socioeconomic students (low SES) students (28.8 per cent growth in enrolments), students with disability (57.4 per cent) and Indigenous students (54.6 per cent). As a result, the participation shares of these groups rose. For instance, the low SES student share of total undergraduate enrolments increased from 15.2 per cent in 2011 to 16.1 per cent in 2016.
By contrast, regional (18.6 per cent) and remote (20.6 per cent) student enrolments saw slightly slower growth over this period. However, we highlight a change in the definition of these groups which suggests they are being under-counted. This is the introduction, by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training (DET), of a first address measure to define socioeconomic (i.e. low SES) and locational (i.e. regional or remote location) disadvantage. In contrast to the current address measure, where students are assigned socioeconomic and locational status on the basis of their current registered address, which can change as often as the student moves, the first address definition characterises a student’s socioeconomic and locational status on the basis of the first address associated with their current enrolment. The new measure has the impact of increasing the 2016 participation shares for low SES (17.3 per cent of all students, up from 16.1 per cent), regional (21.9 per cent from 20.7 per cent) and remote (0.91 per cent from 0.81 per cent) students as they shift location to attend a higher education institution.
While there has been substantial debate about the impact of the expansion in opportunity in higher education, evidence on outcomes is only really beginning to emerge in the form of patterns of attrition, completion and post-graduation outcomes. In 2018, the NCSEHE will report on this evidence through an analysis of enrolment data in a briefing note on equity performance and reports from key research projects in this area.