School experiences, career guidance, and the university participation of young people from three equity groups in Australia
Career guidance and positive secondary school experiences have a significant bearing on equity students’ propensity to enrol in tertiary education. This report provides new, contemporary Australian evidence on the interrelations between equity group membership, school experiences and university enrolment in young people from advantaged and disadvantaged social strata.
Since Australia’s shift into a post-industrial economy and a post-modern society, the early life-course trajectories of young Australians have become more diverse and less structured. From the early 1990s, the increasing availability and popularity of Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs and the expansion of low-skilled, entry-level service jobs have created attractive alternatives to university for many young people. However, these changes have not been randomly distributed across social strata. Instead, it has been documented that emerging options acting as alternatives to tertiary education have been disproportionately chosen by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is of paramount importance that we understand the complex choices that young people in Australia face when deciding whether or not to enrol in university, the factors influencing such decisions, and whether or not these mechanisms operate differently for young people from advantaged and disadvantaged social strata.
Two important school factors which are strongly associated with young people’s chances of enrolling in university are career advice and guidance and school experiences. These factors have been shown to have a substantial influence on young people’s post-school outcomes, including their university participation. However, while the international evidence from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany is rapidly growing, few studies have addressed this issue in the Australian context.
This report addressed important gaps in knowledge in the Australian context concerning the issues discussed above. Specifically, it answered the following research questions:
- How is equity group membership associated with students’ likelihood to enrol into university in contemporary Australia?
- How are (secondary) school factors (i.e. career guidance and school experiences) associated with students’ likelihood to enrol into university in contemporary Australia?
- Are the impacts of school factors on university enrolment different for young people from equity and non-equity groups?
To answer these research questions, high-quality, nationally representative longitudinal data from the 2003 cohort of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth, and state-of-the-art event-history regression models were leveraged.
The report focused on three of the current equity groups:
- young people from low socio-economic (Low SES) backgrounds
- young people from non-English-speaking (NESB) backgrounds
- young people from regional or remote areas within Australia.
Key findings and recommendations
The research yielded three key findings:
- Young people from Low SES backgrounds and from regional and remote areas within Australia are less likely to enrol into university than young people from high socio-economic backgrounds and non-regional/remote areas within Australia, with the exception of students from NESB backgrounds who are more likely to enrol at university.
- Students who held positive attitudes towards school, who reported having a positive relationship with their teachers, and who received certain forms of career guidance were more likely to enrol at university, and did so at earlier ages. However, not all forms of career guidance were found to be equally associated with university enrolment. The strongest positive effects were found for talks by TAFE or university representatives, and schools’ career advisors, while negative effects were found for employer representative talks and group discussion about careers.
- Some school factors have stronger effects on university enrolment amongst students from equity groups. Positive student-teacher relations and talks by school career advisors were more conducive to subsequent university enrolment amongst young people from Low SES backgrounds, and positive student-teacher relations and career group discussions more strongly predicted subsequent university enrolment amongst young people from regional/remote areas within Australia.
Conclusions and considerations for policy
While they cannot be considered causal, these findings are important and policy relevant. In particular, they provide evidence of the importance of in-school career advice and guidance and school experiences in shaping the chances of university participation among young people, particularly those from equity groups. Policy initiatives aimed at improving these school factors are likely to result in expanded university enrolments, and smaller enrolment gaps between young people from advantaged and disadvantaged social strata. In addition, these factors are relatively easy to address through policy intervention (as they can be regulated by government through schools) and are ‘preventive strategies’ with fewer costs and greater returns to investment than ‘remedial strategies’ to compensate for social disadvantage due to poor education. Therefore, we argue that investments into these factors should be considered a priority.