As experts warn that the rising cost of living may be affecting decisions and ambitious aims to ramp up university enrolment may not be realized, the number of Australians enrolled in bachelor degrees has declined by 12% in less than a decade. This decline comes as the government has set lofty targets to boost up university enrolment.
Comparatively, there were 934,700 students enrolled in bachelor’s degrees programs in 2016, whereas there were only 815,700 in 2022.
On the other hand, throughout this same time period there was a rise in the number of people enrolling in postgraduate degrees programs. Comparatively, the number of students participating in postgraduate degrees programs increased from 269,600 in 2016 to 311,500 in 2022. In 2016, there were 83,300 students enrolled in graduate degrees and certificates; in 2022, there will be 85,700 students enrolled in these programs. This is a little increase from 2016.
Overall enrollments in higher education institutions are projected to decrease by 4% between the years 2016 and 2022, falling from 1.32 million to 1.27 million.
The falling enrollment rates come at a time when it is estimated by the Universities Accord interim report that by the year 2050, approximately 55 percent of occupations will call for higher education qualifications.
According to the most recent data that was made available by the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this month, 32% of Australians possessed a bachelor’s degrees in the year 2022. This number increased to 45% among people aged 25 to 34.
According to Jason Clare, who is the minister of education, “we need more young people going to university or Tafe.”
“At the moment, almost one in two Australians in their late 20s have a university degree,” he added. “This is an all-time high.” “However, not in every place. Not too much in the areas. Not in households with a low income.
“The final report will identify the top priorities to ensure that more young people have the opportunity to attend college.”
According to Andrew Norton, a professor of higher education policy at the Australian National University, the number of domestic Australian students enrolling was expected to be lower because the ABS data included international students, who rebounded this year following a Covid downturn. Covid is an abbreviation for “continuing vocational education and training.”
Norton highlighted to early university data that also showed a decline in domestic enrolments. Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) records suggested that there was a reduced percentage of year 12 students seeking to attend university in 2024. This was one of the reasons why domestic enrolments were dropping.
According to Norton, “there are patterns of deferral,” which translates to “[Students] starting later.” “[Domestic enrollments] are stable at best,” the author writes. We’d need to see a rapid increase in participation rates before we could even consider [the aim] a possibility.
At the same time, Norton questioned why the federal government was highlighting the 55% figure in the first place, saying that it was “based on a consultant’s report” and that it “wasn’t credible” to think that policy experts knew what the job market will look like in 2050.
He stated that there should be no pressure put on individuals to enroll in the program since “we need systems to meet demand if it emerges.”
The percentage of the population in Australia who have completed some level of post-secondary education is just marginally lower than the OECD average.
According to the most recent Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey from Melbourne University, which was published at the end of October, the most significant obstacle that prevents young Australians from pursuing higher education is financial constraints.
Nearly 60% of respondents claimed that excessive tuition prices were discouraging people from pursuing higher education at a university. This was followed by concerns that higher education did not lead to better jobs (52%), as well as unwillingness to take out student loans (52%).
Despite the fact that Hecs and Help costs aren’t paid off right away, the lead author, Dr. Nicolás Salamanca, stated that there is a notion among Australians that attending university is extremely costly.
He explained it by saying that individuals have a dread of being in debt. “One thing that took me by surprise was the high percentage of people who believe attending college does not result in a better career, despite the fact that many positions in this country do not require a degree of any kind.
Attendance at a university is not a space that allows for unbounded expansion. Simply said, we need additional information in order to determine whether or not we ought to be concerned.
Early patterns after the epidemic revealed that young people were experiencing the brunt of the cost of living crisis, which may be discouraging them from carrying loans, according to Professor Lucas Walsh, the deputy dean in the faculty of education at Monash University.
According to the results of the organization’s annual Australian Youth Barometer, which was published on Monday, nine out of ten young people had experienced some financial hardship in previous year, and just over half of them agreed that schooling had prepared them for the future.
“Both the labor market and the economy as a whole are in a state of flux… “The pressures brought on by rising costs of living are not to be taken lightly; they will have an effect on the decisions you make,” he stated.
Young people are working more and holding several jobs, yet they are less inclined to pursue formal education. This comes despite a steady fall in year 12 equivalent completion.
The barometer also indicated that 71% of respondents had participated in training that was not related to postsecondary education.
Walsh suggested that this may have something to do with the rise of part-time and casual employment, which encourages younger people to acquire skills for “side hustles.”
“Fifty percent of respondents had participated in the gig economy,” he said. “The gig economy is growing rapidly.” “It’s possible that traditional, sequential routes through school are a thing of the past.
Due to the rapid pace of development, it is impossible for us to predict what the market will be like in five or ten years. However, the effects on the economy can linger for up to ten years. Something of seismic proportions has shifted, and choices that are taken right now may have long-term ramifications for young people.