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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, July 2013  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/07/2013   
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Hitting the books: Characteristics of higher education students

This article features in Episode 15 of the Australian Social Trends Podcast series.
Listen to the episode, or subscribe to the series, here AST Podcast via RSS, or via iTunes.


NUMBER OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a) BY AGE - 2011
Line graph of number of higher education students by age - 2011
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing





Related terms:
Tertiary education, students, school leavers, Bachelor Degree, International students, graduates, university, education, studying, older students, Census data



INTRODUCTION

Higher education refers to education which usually results in the granting of a Bachelor Degree or higher qualification. Participation in higher education is considered a milestone by many people. It is a rich source of new talent and ideas, and helps to shape future leaders. Higher education contributes to Australia's intellectual, economic, cultural and social development, and the long term prosperity of Australia will be influenced by the future activities of higher education graduates.

Studying for a higher education qualification can be a time of significant transition, where students learn new skills, gain knowledge, meet new people and are exposed to alternate ways of thinking. For those who recently left secondary school, the higher education experience may involve many firsts, such as moving out of their childhood home and living in a new city or town. Older students may face challenges like balancing their studies with work and family commitments.

A higher education qualification can allow a person to gain an advantage in a competitive labour market and open up new professional opportunities, especially for careers where a qualification is required for employment or practice. On average, graduates earn more than other workers and the unemployment rate for graduates is lower than for the rest of the population.

This article explores the characteristics of people who were enrolled at a higher education institution, and focuses on the different characteristics of younger students (aged 15-24 years) and older students of working age (aged 25-64 years). Very few people older than 64 years were enrolled in higher education (less than 1%). In 2012, although the majority of higher education students discussed in this article were studying for a Bachelor Degree qualification or above, 11% were studying for a qualification below a Bachelor Degree level, such as a Diploma, or were participating in other studies such as a bridging course.

WHO ARE THEY?

Although the number of higher education students rose between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of students remained relatively stable. In 2011, there were approximately 929,000 people enrolled in higher education in Australia, an increase from 719,000 people in 2001. In both years, 6% of the population aged 15-64 were higher education students.

Most higher education students were aged 15-24 years

The majority of higher education students began their course directly, or relatively soon after finishing secondary school. In 2011, around three in five (59%) students were aged between 15 and 24 years, while 41% of students were aged 25-64 years.

NUMBER OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a) BY AGE - 2011
Line graph of number of higher education students by age - 2011
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

More women were studying

Since 1987, women have outnumbered men in higher education. By 2011, 57% of higher education students aged 15-64 years were women. A number of reasons for this change have been proposed, including the improved social position of women, and the fact that entry into some occupations in which women have traditionally had high levels of participation (for example, teaching and nursing) now requires a degree qualification. (Endnote 1)

The proportion of students born overseas is rising

Students from many different backgrounds study in higher education, and international students contribute to this diverse group. International students enrich Australian communities, bringing energy and different points of view, and they expand Australia's global networks by linking Australians to the rest of the world. (Endnote 2) Higher education is also a significant export industry for Australia - in 2010, fee income from international students was around $3.7 billion. (Endnote1)

In 2001, just under one in three (30%) higher education students were born overseas, with the figure rising to 33% in 2011. Of higher education students born overseas in 2011, over half (60%) were born in Asia, 16% were born in Europe, and 13% were born in Africa and the Middle East. Specifically, many international students came from China (19%), England (7%), India (6%), Malaysia (5%) and New Zealand (4%).

PERCENTAGE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS(a) BY PLACE OF BIRTH - 2011
Bar graph of percentage of international students by place of birth - 2011
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
(b) Includes Oceania and the Americas.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

States and territories

In 2011, a similar proportion of the population aged 15-64 were undertaking higher education across the states and territories, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory. Just over one in ten (12%) people in the ACT were higher education students, which is nearly twice the proportion of other states and territories. Half of the higher education students living in the ACT lived interstate or overseas five years before, which was again more than any other state or territory.

PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION(a) THAT WERE HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS - 2011
Bar graph of percentage of population that were higher education students - 2011
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

Capital cities and towns

In 2011, more than three quarters (78%) of higher education students lived in a capital city. Higher education students made up around 8% of the population of capital cities, and only 4% in other areas. This difference reflects the greater concentration of universities in capital cities. However, a number of smaller cities and towns that were home to higher education institutions also had a large proportion of higher education students within their local population. These included Wagga Wagga and Bathurst (both campuses of Charles Sturt University), Armidale (home to the University of New England), and Lismore (home to Southern Cross University).

Student mobility

Many people move households over a five year period, and in 2010, the most common reason given by higher education students for their last move was wanting to be closer to education facilities. (Endnote 3)

For the most part, students from capital cities tended to study in capital cities, and those who lived outside capital cities tended to study in regional areas: 91% of students who were living in a capital city in 2011 had also lived in a capital city five years before, and 86% of current students who lived outside a capital city in 2011 had also lived outside a capital city in 2006.

Older students were less mobile, being more likely to stay in capital cities than younger students (94% compared with 89%), and also more likely to live outside capital cities if they had lived there 5 years earlier (82% compared with 65%). Younger students (35%) were more likely to move away from capital cities than older students (18%). Interestingly, not many students overall had moved to a capital city in the past five years (9%).

MOBILITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a)(b) - 2011

(a) Aged 15-64 years.
(b) Percentage of students in/outside capital city in 2011 in comparison with where they lived in 2006.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS

In the past decade, the living arrangements of higher education students have seen some changes. Compared with 2001, more students were living with their parent(s) while less were living with their partner.

SELECTED LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a)
Bar graph of selected living arrangements of higher education students
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
(b) Excludes people living with a partner who are also living with parents.
(c) Includes registered marriages and de-facto relationships.
(d) Includes people with partners who are also living with their parents.
Source: ABS 2001 and 2011 Census of Population and Housing

Overcrowding

Overcrowding may impact on students' ability to do homework or study. Whether a dwelling is overcrowded is calculated by comparing the number of bedrooms with the number, sex and age of people in the dwelling. In 2011, around 11% of higher education students lived in an overcrowded dwelling, compared with 7% of other people aged 15-64 years.

Higher education students born overseas were more likely than Australian born students to be living in an overcrowded dwelling (20% overall compared with 6%). Looking at people from countries with a thousand or more students in Australia aged 15 to 64 years, over half of all students born in Nepal (54%) and Afghanistan (52%), and over a third of students born in Pakistan (38%), Sudan (37%) and Iraq (36%) lived in an overcrowded dwelling.

PERCENTAGE OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS BORN OVERSEAS(a)(b),
LIVING IN AN OVERCROWDED DWELLING(c)(d) BY COUNTRY OF BIRTH - 2011


(a) Aged 15-64 years.
(b) Includes only countries where student population in Australia is more than a thousand people.
(c) Based on the Canadian National Occupancy Standard for housing appropriateness.
(d) Includes countries of birth with 25% or more of students living in an overcrowded dwelling.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing.


WHAT ARE THEY STUDYING?

In 2012, most younger students were studying for their first degree, although 10% already had a Bachelor Degree qualification or above. In contrast, nearly six out of ten older students (57%) already had a Bachelor Degree. Many students who already had a Bachelor Degree were improving the level of their qualification, while others were retraining or broadening their education. Of the students who already had a Bachelor Degree or above, three in five (61%) students were enrolled into a Postgraduate Degree.

PERCENTAGE OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a) WITH A
DEGREE QUALIFICATION OR ABOVE BY COURSE ENROLLED - 2012
Bar graph of higher education students with a degree qualification or above by course enrolled - 2012
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
Source: ABS 2012 Survey of Work and Education

Business and management, teaching most popular

In 2012, higher education courses that were popular included: business and management (10%), teacher education (10%) and nursing, accounting, and law (all 5%). A higher proportion of men studied business and management, and banking finance and related fields, while more women studied nursing, teacher education, and behavioural sciences. For more information on sex differences in education, see Australian Social Trends, 2012, 'Education differences between men and women'.

PERCENTAGE OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a), SELECTED COURSES STUDIED BY SEX - 2012
Dot graph of higher education students, selected courses studied by sex - 2012
(a) Aged 15-64 years.
Source: ABS 2012 Survey of Education and Work

WORK AND INCOME

For many students, working while studying is essential. This may be due to their financial situation or for the purpose of gaining work experience before embarking on their career. Nearly all (90%) younger students were studying full-time in 2012, compared with less than half (42%) of older students. Younger students were more likely to study full-time and work part-time or not work at all, while older students were more likely to study part-time and work full or part-time.

PERCENTAGE OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS BY AGE GROUP, ENROLMENT STATUS(a)(b)(c) AND WORK HOURS(d)- 2012
bar graph of percentage of higher education students by age group, enrolment status and work hours - 2012
(a) FT Full-time.
(b) PT Part-time.
(c) FT and PT study as reported by respondent.
(d) FT work is usually 35 hours or more of work per week, PT work is usually less than 35 hours of work per week.
(e) Aged 15-24 years.
(f) Aged 25-64 years.
Source: ABS 2012 Survey of Work and Education

In 2011, there were also differences in hours worked between younger students who lived at home and younger students who did not. Only 9% of employed younger students who lived at home with their family usually worked full-time, compared with 20% of employed younger students who had different living arrangements.

Given the possibility that higher education students living with their family may have a lower cost of living, these students may face less financial stress than students who did not live with their family. Consequently, the need to work for younger students living at home could be less than for other younger students with different living arrangements.

More mature aged students work as professionals

In 2011, common occupations for older students included registered nurses, university lecturers and tutors, and sales assistants, while the most common occupations for younger students were sales assistants, waiters and checkout operators, and office cashiers. Most of these jobs offer part-time hours, which makes it easier for students to manage their work and study commitments.

MOST COMMON OCCUPATIONS, HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS - 2011

Younger students
Older students(b)


%
%
Sales Assistants (General)
20.8
Registered Nurses
4.8
Waiters
7.6
University Lectures and Tutors
3.3
Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers
5.9
Sales Assistants (General)
3.1
Bar Attendants and Baristas
4.7
Accountants
2.7
Receptionists
2.9
General Clerks
2.0
Kitchenhands
2.6
Secondary School Teachers
2.0
Child Carers
2.4
Contract, Program and Project Administrators
2.0
Sports Coaches, Instructors and Officials
2.2
Primary School Teacher
1.6
General Clerks
2.1
Nursing Support and Personal Care Workers
1.4
Shelf Fillers
1.9
Child Carers
1.4

(a) Aged 15-24 years.
(b) Aged 25-64 years.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

Many rely on a wage

According to the ABS 2009-10 Survey of Income and Housing, the main source of income for three out of five (61%) higher education students was a wage or salary. This was more the case for older students (67%) than younger students (56%).

For some higher education students, financial assistance from the Government is an important source of economic support during their studies. For 15% of students, the main source of income was a Government pension or allowance. This was similar for both younger and older students. Austudy, ABSTUDY and Youth Allowance are three forms of financial assistance provided by the Australian Government to those who are eligible. (Endnote 4) In 2009-10, around 3% of higher education students received Austudy or ABSTUDY, while 12% received Youth Allowance.

Around 46,000 students (5%) received no income at all. These students may have enough savings to support themselves throughout their course, or rely on others such as their partner or parents for financial assistance.

Weekly income of employed higher education students

In 2009-10, the median weekly income from all sources of income for employed higher education students was $564, with the median income for younger students being much lower than that of older students ($331 and $1,103 respectively).

This disparity can be seen as a reflection of the types of occupations that younger and older students were employed in and the amount of hours they worked. Older students were more likely to be employed in professional occupations and work full-time, while younger students were more likely to be employed in occupations in retail and hospitality, and work part-time.

HEALTH OF STUDENTS

Lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity have been identified as having a negative impact on health. (Endnote 5) Although there has often been an association made between a 'party' lifestyle and the higher education experience, this does not necessarily mean that higher education students live less healthily than people not enrolled in higher education.

After adjusting for the different age structures of the two groups, results from the ABS 2011-12 Australian Health Survey show that higher education students aged 18 to 64 years were less likely to be current smokers (10% compared with 21% of non-higher education students in the same age group) and more likely to meet recommended guidelines for exercise (58% compared with 45%). (Endnote 6) There was no difference in the proportion who were overweight or obese.

Alcohol consumption

Some people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related injury, as well as their risk of developing health problems over their lifetime. The National Health and Medical Research Council provided guidelines in 2009 for reducing these risks. (Endnote 7)

After adjusting for age, higher education students aged 18-64 were less likely than other people to exceed the guidelines for both short-term and lifetime risk of harm from alcohol consumption. In 2011-12, around 14% drank more than two standard drinks per day on average (compared with 21% of other people the same age). They were also less likely to binge drink (that is, consume more than four standard drinks on a single occasion in the past year) than non-higher education students (45% compared with 52%).

SELECTED HEALTH RISK BEHAVIOURS OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS(a)
Bar graph of selected health risk behaviours of higher education students
(a) Aged 18-64 years.
(b) More than four standard drinks on a single occasion in the past year, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2009.
(c) More than two standard drinks a day on average in the week prior to the survey, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2009.
(d) At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity over 5 sessions per week, National Public Health Partnership, 2003.
Source: ABS 2011-12 Australian Health Survey

LOOKING AHEAD

Higher education provides students with a foundation of skills and knowledge for work, both now and into the future. In 2009, in recognition of the importance of higher education to economic and social progress, the Australian government set a target that by 2025, 40% of people aged 25-34 years would have a Bachelor Degree or above. (Endnote 8)
ADDITIONAL TOPICS

INTERGENERATIONAL EDUCATION

Parents with high educational attainment may serve as role models for their children, and, as higher levels of educational attainment are often linked to jobs with higher income, may be more likely to be financially well-off and more able to provide support for their children while they are studying. Conversely, young people with less educated parents may not be able to pursue higher education due to economic constraints. (Endnote 9)

Data from the ABS 2009 Survey of Education and Training revealed that younger students who were not at school were more likely to be enrolled at a higher education institution when at least one (40%) or both (65%) of their parents had completed a Bachelor Degree or above than people with neither parent having completed a Bachelor Degree or above (20%).

PERCENTAGE OF YOUNG PEOPLE(a) ENROLLED(b) BY PARENTAL EDUCATION - 2009
Bar graph of young people enrolled by parental education - 2009
(a) Aged 15-24 years.
(b) Enrolled at a higher education institution.
Source: ABS 2009 Survey of Education and Training

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS

In 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for around 2% of the entire population of 15-64 year olds but only 1% of all higher education students in this age group. However the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people aged 15-64 studying in higher education has been increasing since the mid 80's.

More younger students are attending

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15-24 attending a higher education institution more than tripled in the 25 years between 1986 and 2011 (1.4% to 4.9%). The non-Indigenous rate also tripled, from 7.5% to 21%. In 2011, one in twenty Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander 15-24 year olds were studying at this level, compared with one in five non-Indigenous people the same age.

In both groups, there was more increase between 2006 and 2011 than there had been in any other five year period since 1991. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15-24 attending a higher education institution increased by 63% over these five years (from around 2,900 people to just under 4,700 people).

PERCENTAGE OF 15-24 YEAR OLDS WHO WERE HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS BY INDIGENOUS STATUS
Line graph of percentage of 15-24 year olds who were higher education students by indigenous status
Source: ABS Censuses of Population and Housing

Indigenous status has less impact on attendance of older students

Unlike the very different proportions of 15-24 year old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people attending a higher education institution, there was only one percentage point difference in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous 25-64 year olds attending these institutions. In 2011, 2.6% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this age group were attending, compared with 3.6% of older non-Indigenous people.

In 2012, a review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was conducted by the Australian Government. (Endnote 10) This review examined the role of higher education in Closing the Gap and reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, and recommended a collaborative approach by the Government, universities and professional bodies to increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

EXPLANATORY INFORMATION

Data sources and definitions

A combination of sources were used for this article, however the main data sources were the ABS 2012 Survey of Education and Work and the ABS 2011 Census of Housing and Population.

A higher education student is a student who is enrolled at a higher education institution.

A higher education institution is a university or other Tertiary institution.

In this article, younger students have been defined as those aged 15-24 years, while older students have been defined as those aged 25-64 years.

Overseas born students are those born in countries other than Australia, who are usual residents of Australia or reported they would be living in Australia for a year or more.

Employed full-time: employed persons who usually worked 35 hours or more a week (in all jobs).

Employed part-time: employed persons who usually worked less than 35 hours a week (in all jobs).

Enrolled: refers to persons registered for a course of study in the particular reference period at an educational institution. People enrolled at the time of the survey were asked whether they were studying their course full-time or part-time.

For any distribution (e.g. income) the median value is that which divides the relevant population into two equal parts, half falling below the value, and half above it.

Austudy is a means tested income support payment provided to students or Australian apprentices, aged 25 years and over. To qualify for assistance, a person must be undertaking qualifying study (full-time or a concessional study load) in an approved course at an approved educational institution, and be an Australian resident currently residing in Australia.

ABSTUDY is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Study Assistance Scheme that provides a means tested living allowance and other supplementary benefits to eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian secondary and tertiary students. To qualify for assistance a person must be undertaking full-time study in an approved course at an approved educational institution and meet residency requirements.

Youth Allowance is a means tested income support payment available to full-time students aged 18 to 24, unemployed people aged 16 to 21, and young people undertaking a full-time Australian Apprenticeship aged 16 to 24.

Studying full-time refers to enrolment in study full-time as reported by the respondent.

Studying part-time refers to enrolment in study part-time as reported by the respondent.

Overcrowding See Canadian National Occupancy Standard for housing appropriateness

Canadian National Occupancy Standard for housing appropriateness

A standard measure of housing utilisation that is sensitive to both household size and composition. Based on the following criteria used to assess bedroom requirements, households requiring at least one additional bedroom are considered to be overcrowded:
  • there should be no more than two persons per bedroom
  • a household of one unattached individual may reasonably occupy a bed-sit (i.e. have no bedroom)
  • couples and parents should have a separate bedroom
  • children less than five years of age, of different sexes, may reasonably share a room
  • children five years of age or over, of different sexes, should not share a bedroom
  • children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom, and
  • single household members aged 18 years or over should have a separate bedroom.
Households living in dwellings where this standard cannot be met are considered to be overcrowded.

The 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for reducing health risks associated with the consumption of alcohol state that, for healthy men and women, 'drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury'. The guidelines also advise that on a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

The National Physical Activity Guidelines for adults states that the accumulation of 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity per week, which can be accumulated in bouts of at least 10 minutes and ideally undertaken over at least 5 separate sessions, is necessary for good health.

Accounting for differences in the age structure removes the effect of age in comparisons between groups which have different age structures (e.g. higher education students aged 15-64 and other people aged 15-64). The use of age standardised rates means that any differences between the two groups are not due to different age structures.

ENDNOTES

1. Norton, A., 2012. Mapping Australian higher education, Grattan Institute, <www.grattan.edu.au>

2. Council of Australian Governments, 2010, International students strategy for Australia 2010-2014, <www.coag.gov.au>.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010. General Social Survey, data available on request, September 2011, <www.abs.gov.au>.

4. Department of Human Services, 2013. Payment for students and trainees, <www.humanservices.gov.au>.

5. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012. Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13, cat. no. 4338.0, <www.abs.gov.au>.

6. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012. Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-12, data available on request, October 2012, <www.abs.gov.au>

7. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 2009. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia. <www.nhmrc.gov.au>.

8. See Review of Australian Higher Education at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education website for further information on higher education policies.

9 . Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009. Characteristics of Parents, Perspectives of Education and Training: Social Inclusion, August 2009, cat. no. 4250.0.55.001, <www.abs.gov.au>.

10. Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, 2012. Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People final report, <www.innovation.gov.au>.


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