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Participation in education and training on the rise – and becoming more equitable

Media release 4 minute read

Overall participation in education and training has increased significantly from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, according to a study released by ACER today.

The study looked at the participation of four groups of Australian students who were 19 in the years 1980, 1984, 1989 and 1994. It considered six forms of educational participation, analysed by gender, socioeconomic status, country of birth, rural-urban location, state of schooling, type of schooling and early school achievement.

Overall, participation by 19-year-olds in post-school education and training – including TAFE courses, apprenticeships, traineeships and higher education – increased from 49 per cent in 1980 to 67 per cent in 1994.

The authors of the report are Mr Michael Long (Research Fellow, ACER) and Professors Peter Carpenter (Australian Catholic University) and Martin Hayden (Southern Cross University).

"The level of educational and training opportunities available to young Australians is important," said Mr Michael Long. "There is a link between the knowledge and skills that education and training can provide and the economic and social well-being of individuals, enterprises and the nation," he said.

The study also found that the number of students completing Year 12 more than doubled between the early 1980s (35 per cent) and the mid-1990s (78 per cent).

Mr Long said that completing Year 12 remained an important prerequisite for entry to post-school education and training, but the opportunities for early school leavers to participate in further education and training also improved over the period studied.

Higher completion rates for Year 12 were complemented by an increased rate in participation in higher education (20 per cent in the early 1980s compared with 39 per cent in the mid-1990s), with students entering TAFE in 1994 more likely to have completed Year 12 (75 per cent) compared with those in 1980 (43 per cent).

Throughout the study period, participation in non-apprenticeship TAFE courses grew steadily, accompanied by a substantial decline in participation in apprenticeships. This decline was somewhat offset by an increase in traineeships.

Commenting on the reasons for higher participation in education and training, Mr Long said "The major force behind the increase has been the increased demand for occupations requiring higher levels of education and training. This demand has arisen through a combination of technological change, microeconomic reform and globalisation".

Mr Long also noted facilitation by schools and tertiary institutions broadening their curricula to make them more relevant to a wider group of young people, government funding policies, and an increased willingness of parents to support their children in their education and training.

The findings also identified equity as an important issue in terms of participation in education and training.

For instance, it is well-known that children from different socio-economic backgrounds have different educational outcomes. But during the period 1980 to 1994, Year 12 completion improved more for the children of blue-collar workers than for the children of white-collar workers, so that by 1994 the socio-economic differences were smaller than they were in 1980.

In higher education, however, socio-economic differences, while narrowing slightly, did not change very much. In 1994 the children of white-collar workers (professional and clerical occupations) were about twice as likely to go to university as the children of blue-collar workers – and this was much the same as in 1980. There was quite rapid growth in participation by children whose parents worked in unskilled manual occupations, but as this growth was from a low base it did not change the overall composition of higher education very much.

Participation in TAFE, however, increased more quickly for the children of blue-collar workers than for the children of white-collar workers.

"Overall, then, socio-economic differences in participation in post-compulsory education declined during the 14 years of the study," Mr Long said.

"Equality of opportunity is an issue of economic efficiency, as well as of social justice. The study provides potential insights into how that equality might be further improved from the gains we have already made."

The study forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth research program, which is conducted by ACER and supported by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Long, Michael, Carpenter, Peter & Hayden, Martin. (1999) Participation in Education and Training 1980–1994, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, Research Report No. 13, Melbourne: ACER.

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