A forthcoming report has found that the vast majority of the new university places on offer since 2012 have been filled by students from medium to high socio-economic backgrounds.
The report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), which is due to be released in May this year, examines whether increases in the tertiary education sector have had an impact on the uptake of apprenticeships.
“What we found with universities is that the people who were likely to take these new places were those who wouldn’t have previously done an apprenticeship or gone to university … but they were more likely to be from the medium to high SES-background,” said Patrick Lim, senior researcher at NCVER.
The findings of the report echo claims made in a submission by the Group of Eight universities to the ongoing federal review of demand-driven funding. The Go8 submission found that domestic undergraduate enrolments increased by 32% since 2012, when the then-Labor government begun funding as many commonwealth-supported places as universities were willing to offer. However, the Go8 found that students from a medium to high socioeconomic background took up 80% of these new places. Furthermore, students with comparatively lower ATARs constituted the majority of these enrolments, with a 153% increase in the enrolment of students who achieved an ATAR between 30 and 49.
Sydney University’s Director of Social Inclusion Annette Cairnduff said that there has been “a sharp increase” in the percentage of students from higher socio-economic backgrounds enrolled since 2012. However, she maintained that while there was a small increase in the proportion of students from underprivileged backgrounds, the overall number of such students had risen substantially.
“Achieving any positive change during this period of rapid overall expansion is a significant achievement. Many more students from low socio-economic and other targeted backgrounds are now participating in higher education as a direct result of the demand-driven reforms,” she said.
According to Cairnduff, Sydney University’s social outreach programs such as Compass and Bridges to Higher Education have provided promising early results in improving access to university for disadvantaged students. Nevertheless, she cautioned that the proposed cuts to tertiary education funding would have a “devastating” impact on all such programs in the sector.
However, SRC Education Officer Ridah Hassan said that the results of the NCVER report are unsurprising. Hassan argued that demand-driven funding offered no solution to the problems faced by many low SES students in attending university, such as increasing course fees, cuts to student welfare, and inequality in primary and secondary education.
“It is still the case today that a persons’ post-code can be one of the most reliable factors in determining whether they will get to university. Working class and low SES students who go to public schools in poor neighbourhoods with little funding and resources are obviously disadvantaged,” she said.