Setting primary course for university study

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Wednesday, 24 Nov 2010


For immediate release 24 November 2010

Initial findings released today from the largest survey of current Australian university students ever undertaken suggest that most students set a course for university much earlier than usually expected.

The survey, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in August, involved around 55 000 students at 55 tertiary institutions. As part of a wider survey on student engagement with tertiary study they were asked when they had first considered attending university and what had influenced their course selection.

Results reveal that 40 per cent of first year students first considered university study while in primary school. Females (43 per cent) were more likely to set this early course than males (36 per cent), as were international students (48 per cent) compared with domestic students (39 per cent). A further 23 per cent first considered university study when in lower secondary school, 22 per cent during senior secondary schooling, 13 per cent while working and 3 per cent during prior post-school study such as at TAFE or another course.

ACER’s Director of Higher Education Research, Associate Professor Hamish Coates, said the results indicate that measures to encourage university study aimed at senior high school students may be misdirected.

“We have to start young getting kids engaged with the idea of university study,” Dr Coates said.

“This is particularly important for Indigenous students, students from families with no history of university study, and students from economically disadvantaged or regional backgrounds.”

Indigenous Australian students were more likely to have first considered university study while working (22 per cent compared with 13 per cent of non-Indigenous Australian students).

Students whose mother or father had a degree were more likely to have first considered attending university at a younger age than students who are the first in their family to attend university – 48 compared with 30 per cent.

42 per cent of people from metropolitan backgrounds had set course for tertiary study in primary school, compared with just 29 per cent of those from regional or remote areas.

“These findings indicate that some Australian children do not see university study as a realistic option,” Dr Coates said.

“If targets to increase the university participation rates of Australians, particularly those from under represented social groups, are to be achieved then we need to look at ways to raise awareness of university study among younger children. Waiting until high school is too late.”

Further findings showed that most first-year university students (79 per cent) were influenced to pursue higher education by wanting to study an area of interest. Other influences included a desire to improve job prospects (50 per cent), training for a specific job (45 per cent) and family expectations (25 per cent). Just 3 per cent were influenced by information in the media and 4 per cent by independent websites, suggesting advertising is largely ineffective.

The survey results are the first to be released from the 2010 administration of the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE). Institutions receive customised reports in late November, with research briefings released in 2011.




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