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International Baccalaureate an advantage for university applicants

6 minute read

Australian students who study the International Baccalaureate in year 12 have higher university entry rates and course completion than their peers, regardless of their socio-economic background, new research shows. 

A study by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) shows that the university success rates for students who studied the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) instead of the senior years curriculum were consistent over several years.  

The findings are among many presented in a report – Australian university outcomes: A national study comparing IBDP and non IDBP students – prepared for the Australian International Baccalaureate Organization. 

ACER researchers tracked the progress of 8,010 Australian IBDP students who applied to study bachelor degrees between 2013 and 2018, monitoring them through to 2022. While only 3% of Australian high schools – 22 government and 58 non-government  – offered senior students the IBDP in 2023, this is the first national study tracking the university outcomes of students from this program. 

Drawing on Australian Department of Education data, the research also provides insights into the choices, outcomes and trends for more than 600,000 other Australian students who started university between 2013 and 2018. 

In each year from 2013 to 2018, the percentage of IBDP students who were offered a university place was 97.7% or above – consistently about 10 percentage points higher than the proportion of non-IBDP year 12 students who applied for university.  

For those who enrolled at university, ‘checkpoints’ where progress and outcomes were monitored were set at the end of the first year, and then at 4, 6 and 9 years after commencement – to allow for study breaks, changes to part-time study, and course changes. 

At all checkpoints across groups starting university between 2013 and 2018, students who had completed the IBDP consistently recorded higher progression and completion rates than their peers who had completed their schooling through a mainstream pathway. 

Female students in both the IBDP and non-IBDP groups had higher persistence and completion rates than male students, and female students who studied the IBDP had higher rates again than females who didn’t.  

Findings defy norms on disadvantage 

The general findings of the study are not surprising, given that students who complete the IBDP are more likely to be from advantaged backgrounds and have characteristics associated with higher educational outcomes.  

However, report co-author Ms Kylie Hillman said this research also produced findings contradicting studies showing a link between disadvantage and lower educational achievement.  

While most students in the IBDP group experienced socio-economic advantage, analysis showed that those from a disadvantaged background were as successful in getting university placements. 

Completion rates for these students were also ‘relatively high compared with their more economically advantaged peers’.  

In addition, outcomes for male IBDP students who experienced medium levels of disadvantage were ‘significantly higher than for non-IBDP students with the same characteristics’.  

The positive findings extended to IBDP students in regional areas, who also did better than other regional students in their university aspirations and outcomes.   

‘While most IBDP students come from metropolitan areas, among the small number who were from outside of metropolitan areas, the IBDP certainly seems to be benefitting those who choose a university pathway,’ Ms Hillman says.   

How the IBDP differs from state curricula 

She suggests a possible contributor to the comprehensively positive findings for IBDP students is the style of learning encouraged by the program. 

IBDP students choose a course within 6 subject groups – studies in language and literature, language acquisition, sciences, mathematics, individuals in societies and arts. 

The objective is that students get a broad educational experience and are challenged to apply their knowledge and skills. 

‘Many curricula are quite structured compared to the IBDP,’ Ms Hillman says. ‘For example, the capstone project required in the IBDP is a form of self-directed, inquiry learning that might be more in line with university-style learning approaches. 

‘Maybe it’s that sense of autonomy and responsibility for their own learning that helps students who undertake the IBDP to navigate pathways that are less distinct.’ 

The study suggests that this approach may be beneficial beyond school, particularly for students looking towards academic pursuits. 


Read Australian university outcomes: A national study comparing IBDP and non-IDBP students

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