Wednesday, 14 Feb 2001

Students who complete Year 12 and participate in higher education are more likely to be female, students with language backgrounds other than English, or students from metropolitan areas, according to a report released by the Australian Council for Educational Research today.

The concept ‘educational disadvantage’ may need to be re-evaluated, according to the report. "Attributes that have been considered detrimental to educational participation, such as being female and having a language background other than English, now have strong positive effects on educational participation," Dr Phillip McKenzie, Deputy Head of Policy Research at ACER said.

The report, Patterns of Participation in Year 12 and Higher Education in Australia: Trends and Issues, found that participation in Year 12 and higher education is more a product of student achievement than social background. How well students perform in literacy and numeracy is a much better predictor of their subsequent educational participation than are their social characteristics. Although socioeconomic background remains an influence on educational participation, its effect is declining. Therefore, Australian educational authorities have made some progress towards an educational system which is based more on merit rather than on a student’s social characteristics.

Students from urban areas were more likely to participate in Year 12 and higher education than students in rural areas. The difference was about 10 percentage points. These differences in participation could not be attributed to differences in literacy and numeracy between rural and urban students.

The gender gap between boys and girls in both participation in Year 12 and higher education continues to widen, with females outnumbering males in both areas. The gap has increased since the 1980s, and is now around 10 percentage points. As other ACER research has shown, the pathways beyond education are also different for boys and girls, with more boys being represented in post-school training such as apprenticeships.

"The increasing gap in male and female participation in Year 12 and higher education is a concern. The gap cannot be explained by factors such as prior school achievement, which indicates that boys are now experiencing educational disadvantage," says Dr McKenzie.

However, the group that suffers the most educational disadvantage is Australia’s Indigenous students. Of the Indigenous students in the sample, 47 per cent participated in Year 12 and 17 per cent took part in higher education. These rates were much lower than those for all students (76 per cent participated in Year 12 and 31 per cent in higher education). This is a concern because low participation rates tend to be associated with poorer social and economic outcomes among adults.

"It is important that we develop educational policies to substantially improve the achievement and participation levels of Indigenous students," Dr McKenzie said.

The study, which focuses on participation in Year 12 in 1998 and in higher education in 1999, is based on an original cohort of over 13 000 Year 9 students. The report forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) research program, which is jointly managed by ACER and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA).

Marks, G., Fleming, N., Long, M. & McMillan, J. (2000). Patterns of Participation in Year 12 and Higher Education in Australia: Trends and Issues, LSAY Research Report No. 17, Melbourne: ACER.