Tertiary participation in Australia


Modelling increased tertiary participation in Australia

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Key figures

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There is clear need for a longer term and more strategic approach to tertiary education policy and funding in Australia.

One objective of Australia's tertiary education policy is to increase participation rates, especially among 15-24 year olds. However new modelling shows significant investment increases are required to achieve this, particularly when looking at the whole working age population.

Australian tertiary student numbers increased significantly from 2008 in response to changed policy settings, then fell from 2014 to 2015.  The decline is due to a decrease in VET student numbers starting in 2012 and growing in 2014.

Although the general trend is a strong increase in student numbers in higher education after introducing the demand driven system, these numbers have now effectively plateaued.    

Given this uncertainty, as well as ever increasing demand for tertiary qualifications and steady population growth, we commissioned modelling from ACIL Allen that explores four different participation scenarios: 

  • If student enrolment numbers stay at 2015 levels
  • If participation rates stay at 2015 levels
  • If participation rates rise from 2015 by 2 per cent to 2020 and 1 per cent to 2030
  • If participation rates rise from 2015 by 2 per cent to 2020 and 1 per cent to 2030 in VET, and 1 per cent to 2020 and 0.5 per cent to 2030 in higher education (with the balance of higher education growth attributed to VET).

There scenarios are only for illustrative purposes, they are not policy proposals and can be varied. The model comprised enrolments in publicly funded courses from Certificate III to degrees as a percentage of projected population levels to 2030.

Our modelling suggests tertiary student numbers would need to rise by more than 400,000 until 2030 to maintain participation rates at current levels. Another 500,000 students would be needed to boost participation rates by 2 per cent to 2020, and a further 1 per cent by 2030.