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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Education >> Educational Attainment: Educational profile of Australians

Educational Attainment: Educational profile of Australians

In 1996, among the 5.8 million people aged 15 years and over who held a post-school qualification, 1.5 million held a bachelor degree or higher as their highest qualification, and 1.5 million held a skilled vocational qualification.

In 1996, 42% of the population aged 15 years and over (5.8 million people) had at least one post-school qualification-up from 39% in 1991. The proportion of men (aged 15 years and over) with a qualification increased from 45% to 48%, and for women the proportion increased from 33% to 36%.

Continuing increases in levels of educational attainment over recent decades1 have occurred because of progressive increases in levels of participation in post-school educational programs by school leavers; greater opportunities for study for older people; inflows of people with qualifications from overseas (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Migrants and education); and the mortality of people born before World War II, who were less likely to have obtained a post-school qualification. Progressively higher levels of participation in higher education among younger women (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Education - National summary tables) reflect significant changes in women's roles and responsibilities in society.

The types of qualifications held by men and women, in terms of level of attainment (e.g., whether they had a university degree or a vocational certificate) and field of study, differ substantially. Comparisons by age reveal that some of the differences are a legacy of the different patterns of involvement in education among older generations of men and women. Differences between younger men and women, while reflecting traditional norms, tend to be less marked.


Post-school qualifications

This review is based on data collected in the 1996 Census of Population and Housing, which asked people aged 15 years and over a series of questions about their highest qualification obtained since leaving school. The questions (like those in previous censuses) provided information about the level and field of study in which the qualification was held, as well as the year in which the person completed their qualification. As the information was obtained only for the highest level of qualification, the Census provides an incomplete picture of the full range of qualifications held.

Levels of qualification are classified according to the ABS Classification of Qualifications into:
  • bachelor degree and above, comprising bachelor degree (including honours), graduate or postgraduate diploma, master's degree or doctorate;
  • undergraduate diploma, comprising courses lasting three years full-time (or equivalent) for professional or associate professional occupations;
  • associate diploma, comprising courses lasting from one to two years full-time (or equivalent) for advanced trades, technical or associate professional occupations;
  • skilled vocational qualification, which requires two to four years study and is for work in a high skilled trade or craft; and
  • basic vocational qualification, which requires one semester to one year study for those wanting to work at the operative level in various fields.

PEOPLE WITH A POST-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION, 1991 AND 1996
Source: Unpublished data, 1991 and 1996 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Level of attainment
In 1996, the most common types of qualifications held by men were skilled vocational certificates (19%), bachelor or higher degrees (11%) and, to a lesser extent, associate or undergraduate diplomas (5%). Among women, on the other hand, while similar proportions had a bachelor degree or higher (10%), and slightly higher proportions had an associate or undergraduate diploma (7%), relatively few had a skilled vocational qualification (3%). Women were more likely than men to have a basic vocational qualification (4% and 2%, respectively).

Those aged between 25 and 44 years in 1996 were the most highly qualified - many of those in younger age groups were still students, and many of those in older age groups had had fewer opportunities to obtain a post-school qualification. Among those aged 25-44, older men (those aged 35-44) were more likely to have a post-school qualification than those aged 25-34 (58% and 55% respectively). For women, however, the younger of the two age groups were more likely to have a post-school qualification. The difference by age is more pronounced among men and women holding a degree or higher qualification, to the extent that a higher proportion of women aged 25-34 had a degree or higher qualification than men.

The level of attainment of those aged 15-24 compared to those in older age groups indicates further change. In the 15-24 years age group, a slightly higher proportion of women than men had attained a post-school qualification, and women were more likely to hold a bachelor or higher degree (7% compared to 4%).

PROPORTIONS WITH A POST-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION, 1996

Bachelor degree or higher
Associate or undergraduate diploma
Skilled vocational
Basic vocational
Total with post-school qualifications(a)
Age (years)
%
%
%
%
%

Males
    15-24
4.2
2.4
8.6
1.6
27.8
    25-34
14.6
5.9
23.4
2.3
54.5
    35-44
16.2
6.9
23.3
2.5
57.6
    45-54
13.5
7.0
21.5
2.4
53.8
    55 and over
6.6
4.4
17.8
1.5
45.8
    Total
10.8
5.2
18.9
2.0
47.7
Females
    15-24
6.8
4.6
2.4
3.6
28.7
    25-34
16.6
8.5
4.2
5.2
44.4
    35-44
15.3
9.5
3.0
5.1
43.5
    45-54
10.7
8.6
2.8
3.8
36.9
    55 and over
3.6
4.5
1.8
1.5
30.3
    Total
10.1
6.9
2.8
3.7
36.4

(a) Includes those whose level of qualification was not stated or inadequately described.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Field of study

Fields of study are classified according to the ABS Classification of Qualifications. The broad fields of study are:
  • business and administration includes studies in business management, management support services, sales and marketing, and financial services;
  • health comprises studies in medicine, nursing, health sciences, dental and veterinary fields, and health and safety services;
  • education includes school, post-school and special education teacher training;
  • society and culture includes economics, law, behaviour, welfare, languages, religion and philosophy, librarianship, visual and performing arts, geography, communication, recreation and leisure, and policing;
  • natural and physical sciences includes life and physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, and computer science;
  • engineering includes electrical, electronic, mechanical, aeronautical, metallurgical and mining, automotive, chemical, industrial and civil engineering, surveying and cartography, textiles, and woodworking studies;
  • architecture and building includes architecture and building design and construction;
  • agriculture and related fields comprises agriculture, horticulture, and fisheries and forestry studies; and
  • miscellaneous fields includes studies in hairdressing and beauty therapy, food and hospitality services, transport, and plant and machine operation.


Field of study
Australia has a diverse economy and a well-developed system of tertiary level educational institutions allowing qualifications to be obtained in a broad range of fields. Some fields of study are associated with courses conducted at particular levels of study, and this is reflected in the types of qualifications attained by men and women. For example, in 1996, people who held qualifications in the broad field of architecture and building usually held them at the skilled vocational level (84% of those who stated their level). On the other hand, people qualified in natural and physical sciences mostly did so at the bachelor degree level or higher (72%). Other fields of study were more evenly distributed. For example, people were about as likely to hold a qualification in business and administration at the associate or undergraduate diploma level (31%) as at the basic vocational level (28%) or at the bachelor degree level or higher (36%).

Among people with bachelor degrees or higher, the most commonly held qualifications were in the fields of society and culture (357,800 people), education (278,500), business and administration (227,000) and health (213,600). Aside from the field of business and administration, there were more women than men with higher educational qualifications in these fields (particularly in the fields of education and health, where 70% and 66%, respectively, of all those with degrees were women).

Among the 846,500 people whose highest qualification was an associate or undergraduate diploma, the three most common fields of study, all dominated by women, were business and administration (194,700 people), health (176,200) and education (155,400).

The two major fields of study among people, mostly men, with skilled vocational qualifications, were engineering (835,600 people, 96% of whom were men) and architecture and building (291,800, 99% of whom were men). These two fields alone, while covering a diverse range of specialised skills, accounted for 76% of all people with a skilled vocational qualification.

Among the 398,700 people whose highest qualification was from a course designed to provide a basic vocational skill, almost two thirds (65%) were women, most of whom had completed courses in the fields of business and administration, and health. Within the broad field of business and administration (142,300 women and 34,800 men), women were more likely than men to have a qualification concerned with providing management support services (73% compared with 9% for men), particularly keyboarding and shorthand (56%, compared with 3%). Men, on the other hand, were more likely to have a basic qualification in management (38%, compared with 4% for women), sales and marketing (24%, compared with 8%) or financial services (15%, compared with 3%).

PEOPLE WITH POST-SCHOOL QUALIFICATIONS, BY TYPE OF QUALIFICATION(a), 1996

Bachelor degree or higher
Associate or under-
graduate diploma
Skilled vocational
Basic vocational




Broad field of study
'000
% female
'000
% female
'000
% female
'000
% female

Business and administration
227.0
35.7
194.7
53.4
26.1
44.5
177.1
80.3
Health
213.6
66.2
176.2
87.9
7.6
38.2
67.6
91.9
Education
278.5
70.0
155.4
78.2
. .
. .
0.7
55.7
Society and culture
357.8
54.8
98.9
68.6
32.3
72.7
30.1
70.4
Natural and physical sciences
182.2
35.8
42.5
36.4
6.2
38.7
20.8
48.2
Engineering
120.1
8.4
105.0
6.5
835.6
3.8
33.6
19.0
Architecture and building
21.9
24.2
21.4
17.0
291.8
1.3
11.5
6.9
Agriculture and related fields
17.7
23.8
23.5
21.2
33.2
12.0
17.6
23.3
Miscellaneous fields
1.3
17.5
18.6
27.1
209.5
51.9
34.7
33.9
Total(b)
1,450.9
49.4
846.5
57.8
1 483.0
13.2
398.7
65.4

(a) People aged 15 years and over.
(b) Includes those whose field of study was not stated or inadequately described.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


State and Territory differences
The educational attainment profile of people differs according to the geographical region in which they live.2 The extent to which people in the towns and cities of each State and Territory have access to institutions offering certain qualifications may be part of the reason. However, as particular industries need and attract people with specialised skills, differences in the regional mix of industries are likely to be important in determining whether high proportions of people in any one region have certain types of qualifications. The populations of the States and Territories also have different age profiles, affecting the proportions of people with a post-school qualification.

In 1996, the proportion of people aged 15 years and over with a post-school qualification was highest in the Australian Capital Territory (51%). The proportions in New South Wales, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria ranged between 42% to 44% while those in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania ranged between 38% and 39%.

The comparatively small, mostly urban population of the Australian Capital Territory, which has a high proportion of people working in the government and education sectors, had the highest proportion of people with a bachelor degree or higher (23%) and with an associate or undergraduate diploma (7%). The proportion with a bachelor degree or higher was generally more than twice the proportion in each of the other States and Territories. People with a degree in society and culture (which includes arts, humanities, social and behavioural sciences and law) were highly represented (8%), as were those with a degree in the natural and physical sciences (4%).

Among the other States and the Northern Territory, the proportions of people with degrees, diplomas and skilled vocational qualifications were not greatly dissimilar. The proportions of their populations with qualifications in the most popular fields of study were also much the same. In the field of business and administration, Tasmania had a lower representation of people with degrees and diplomas, 1.6%, which in the other populations ranged from 2.2% in South Australia and the Northern Territory to 3.5% in New South Wales. However, this was among the larger of the differences.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER WITH THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF QUALIFICATIONS(a), BY STATE AND TERRITORY, 1996

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Type of qualification
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Bachelor degree or higher(b)
10.9
11.4
8.6
8.6
9.9
7.9
9.6
22.6
10.4
    Society and culture
2.8
2.8
1.9
2.1
2.2
1.9
2.3
8.3
2.6
    Education
1.9
2.3
1.8
1.7
2.0
2.0
2.3
2.7
2.0
    Business and administration
1.8
1.9
1.4
1.0
1.6
0.8
1.2
2.6
1.6
    Health
1.5
1.6
1.5
1.6
1.5
1.4
1.5
1.7
1.5
    Natural and physical sciences
1.3
1.5
1.0
1.1
1.3
1.0
1.2
4.5
1.3
Associate or undergraduate diploma(b)
6.5
6.1
5.4
5.6
6.2
5.3
5.4
7.3
6.1
    Business and administration
1.7
1.4
1.0
1.2
1.4
0.8
1.0
1.7
1.4
    Health
1.3
1.2
1.2
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.1
1.4
1.3
Skilled vocational qualification(b)
10.9
10.0
11.3
10.6
11.4
10.0
10.6
6.9
10.7
    Engineering
6.1
5.6
6.3
6.3
6.6
5.2
6.1
3.1
6.0
    Architecture and building
2.1
2.0
2.6
1.6
2.1
2.3
1.9
1.6
2.1
Basic vocational qualifications(b)
3.3
2.5
2.3
3.1
3.2
2.7
2.8
3.8
2.9
    Business and administration
1.7
0.9
0.9
1.1
1.4
1.1
1.1
2.0
1.3
All persons with post-school qualifications(c)
44.4
41.7
39.0
38.5
42.1
37.5
42.0
51.2
41.9

All persons aged 15 years and over ('000)
4,719.5
3,486.1
2,523.8
1,142.3
1,320.9
360.1
127.9
232.3
13,914.9

(a) Includes the ten most commonly held qualifications, Australia-wide (see previous table), when classified by broad fields of study and level of attainment.
(b) As a proportion of all persons. Includes those whose field of study was not stated or inadequately described.
(c) Includes those for whom both level of qualification and field of study was not stated or inadequately described.

Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Endnotes

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Social Indicators 5, Australia (see p.127), cat. no. 4101.0, ABS, Canberra.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Australia in Profile: A Regional Analysis, Census 1996, cat. no. 2032.0, ABS, Canberra.



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