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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2002  
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Contents >> Education >> Participation in Education: Education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Participation in Education: Education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The number of Indigenous students in Vocational Education and Training increased by 60% between 1996 and 2000. Smaller increases over the last 5 to 6 years were recorded in schools (25%) and higher education (6%).

The social conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long been a cause for concern within Australian society, with health and employment identified as two principal areas where improvement is necessary (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Social conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people). Education is generally considered to be a key factor in improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians, with many studies having shown that improved health and socioeconomic status are directly linked to educational participation and achievement.1

There is a range of issues affecting participation in education for Indigenous Australians, including access to educational institutions, financial constraints, and community expectations. Government policies have been developed to address some of these issues, such as the provision of culturally appropriate teacher training. While targeted programs are improving outcomes in some educational areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continue to fare poorly compared with Australian students overall.2

This article examines the extent to which Indigenous students participate in each education sector, and presents some measures of performance and achievement. Comparisons with previous years, and with the total student population, provide context for the discussion of trends for Indigenous students within the education system.


Indigenous education
Data in this article come principally from the ABS National Schools Statistics Collection, from data collected by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, and from the Department of Education, Science and Training higher education data collection.

Indigenous students are those who identify themselves as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person when enrolling. Indigenous education statistics may be affected by the willingness to identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and by the different methods used to collect this information across organisations and States and Territories.

The apparent retention rate is the percentage of full-time students of a given cohort group who continue from the first year of secondary schooling to a specified year level. Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates, as they do not account for students repeating a year or migrating in or out of the Australian school student population.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) refers specifically to vocational training delivered by publicly funded training providers (e.g. TAFE, agricultural colleges, and some schools and private providers).

Higher education refers to publicly funded educational courses at universities; the Australian Film, Television and Radio School; the National Institute of Dramatic Art; and the Australian Defence Force Academy.


Indigenous participation in education
In 2001, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 2.2% of the Australian population.3 However, the Indigenous population had a much younger age profile than the rest of the population (a result of higher mortality rates, higher fertility rates, and intermarriage with non-Indigenous persons). This meant that Indigenous Australians made up a relatively higher proportion of the total population who were aged 5-14 years (4.0%) and 15-24 years (3.0%) - the age groups encompassing the majority of students. When considering education participation rates, it could be expected that the proportion of Indigenous students in the various education sectors would reflect the proportion of Indigenous Australians in these two age groups, with figures around 3-4%.

Over the last 5 to 6 years, the number of Indigenous students in most education sectors increased steadily. These increases may reflect an increased willingness to identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians, the underlying growth in the population and an increase in participation in education. Over this period, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school enrolments increased by 25%. As a proportion of the total school population, this represented an increase from 2.9% in 1996 to 3.5% in 2001. Indigenous participation was highest for the primary student population, with Indigenous students comprising 4.1% of the primary student population, compared with 2.7% of the secondary student population.

The increase in Indigenous participation over the late 1990s was greatest in the Vocational Education and Training sector, where Indigenous student numbers rose by 60% between 1996 and 2000. Consistent with this, the proportion of Indigenous VET students also increased, from 3.1% in 1996 to 3.7% in 2000. This contrasted with Indigenous participation in higher education, where student numbers increased during this period but the proportion of Indigenous students in this sector remained largely unchanged.

INDIGENOUS PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION(a)

1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001

Student numbers
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
School students
92.7
96.8
102.2
106.6
111.5
115.5
    Primary
64.9
67.1
70.5
73.2
76.7
78.9
    Secondary
27.8
29.7
31.6
33.4
34.8
36.5
VET students
32.3
38.5
44.4
50.8
51.7
n.y.a.
Higher education students
7.0
7.5
7.8
8.0
7.4
n.y.a.

As a proportion of all students
%
%
%
%
%
%
School students
2.9
3.1
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.5
    Primary
3.5
3.6
3.8
3.9
4.0
4.1
    Secondary
2.1
2.3
2.4
2.5
2.6
2.7
VET students(b)
3.1
3.4
3.7
3.9
3.7
n.y.a.
Higher education students(c)
1.2
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.2
n.y.a.

(a) School student numbers are from a census conducted in August each year. VET students comprise total enrolments for the year. Some students could enrol more than once in a year. Higher education data are from a census of students at Higher education institutions on 31 March of each year.
(b) Persons whose Indigenous status was not known were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(c) Excludes overseas students.

Source: Schools, Australia, 1996-2001 (ABS cat. no. 4221.0); National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Australian Vocational Education and Training Statistics: In detail, 1996-2000; Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Students 2000: Selected Higher Education Statistics.


Primary and secondary school
There were 115,500 Indigenous students enrolled in Australian schools in 2001; 78,900 in primary schools and 36,500 in secondary schools. These students were less likely than the overall student population to be attending a non-government school (12.3% compared with over 30% of all students). The proportion of Indigenous students attending a non-government school was virtually unchanged between 1996 and 2001.

The literacy of Australian students has been a focus of educational initiatives in recent years, particularly as literacy is regarded as an indicator of likely educational and labour force outcomes.1 While it has traditionally been difficult to report comparative achievement of school students across states, recent literacy testing using benchmarks has provided a useful uniform measure (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Literacy and numeracy among school students). The reading benchmark is based on testing the ability of students to read and understand a range of texts considered suitable for the relevant year level.

PROPORTION OF STUDENTS ACHIEVING THE YEAR 3 READING BENCHMARK - 2000

Source: Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, National Report on Schooling in Australia Preliminary Paper, 2000.


In 2000, a smaller proportion of Indigenous students achieved the Year 3 reading benchmark compared with all students who were tested. Results for Indigenous students were substantially lower in most States, most notably in the Northern Territory, where 26% of Indigenous Year 3 students achieved the benchmark compared with 65% of all students. This may in part be attributable to the fact that English is a second language for some Indigenous students, particularly those in remote areas.

Another focus of Indigenous education programs has been to encourage students to remain at school as long as possible so that educational outcomes and entry rates into tertiary education are improved.1 While apparent retention rates for Indigenous full-time students have improved since the 1980s, Indigenous students were still less likely than all students in 2001 to stay at school beyond the compulsory years.2 In 2001, the proportion of Indigenous students continuing to Year 10 was 86%, compared with 94% of all students. For Indigenous students continuing their studies to Year 12, the apparent retention rate was half that of all students (36% compared with 73%).

APPARENT RETENTION RATES(a) FOR YEARS 10, 11 AND 12 - 2001

(a) From Year 7/8 for full-time students only.
(b) Indigenous apparent retention rates are influenced by the degree to which students identify as Indigenous, which may have increased between 1998 and 2000.

Source: ABS 2001 National Schools Statistics Collection.


Vocational Education and Training
While the numbers of Indigenous students in higher education have long been influenced by low Year 12 completion rates, participation in Vocational Education and Training (where completion of Year 12 is not necessarily a prerequisite) has increased markedly in recent years. As already mentioned, there was a 60% increase in the number of Indigenous VET students from 1996 to 2000. This coincided with a 34% increase in VET student numbers overall.

INDIGENOUS VET STUDENTS BY MAJOR FIELD OF STUDY - 2000

Indigenous students
As a proportion of all students
Field of study(a)
'000
%

Agriculture, Animal husbandry
4.3
4.8
Architecture, Building
2.2
2.6
Arts, Social Science, Humanities
6.2
5.3
Business administration, Economics
6.5
1.8
Education
2.3
5.1
Engineering, Surveying
4.0
2.0
Health, Community Services
5.5
4.0
Law, Legal Studies
0.4
3.6
Science
1.4
1.1
Veterinary Science, Animal Care
-
0.9
Services, Hospitality, Transport
4.9
1.7
TAFE Multi-field education
11.7
5.9
Total(b)
51.7
3.0

(a) Field of study as described by the Australian Vocational Education and Training Management Information Statistical Standard.
(b) Includes students studying a module only (with no related qualification or field of study).

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research 2000 Australian Vocational Education and Training Statistics.


The training of apprentices and trainees remains an important function of the VET sector in Australia, particularly with the expansion and diversification of this system over the 1990s. The number of Indigenous people in apprenticeships and traineeships increased between 1996 and 2000, both in terms of participants (from 2,900 to 5,200), and as a proportion of all apprentices and trainees (from 1.8% to 1.9%). Most of this increase was in non-trade occupations. However, the proportion of Indigenous apprentices and trainees in skilled trade occupations doubled during this period (from 0.6% to 1.2%).

In 2000, Indigenous VET students were more likely than other students to be studying in the fields of Arts/Social Science/Humanities, Education, Agriculture/Animal Husbandry, and Health/Community Services. They were twice as likely to be involved in TAFE Multi-field education (23% of Indigenous students compared with 11% of all students). Multi-field education encompasses a range of enabling courses, which provide students with generic study, interpersonal, or job search skills.

MAJOR QUALIFICATION VET STUDENTS WERE STUDYING TOWARDS - 2000

Indigenous students
All students
Qualification
%
%

Diploma or higher
5.9
11.4
Certificate IV or equivalent
7.4
9.9
Certificate III or equivalent
19.1
19.9
Certificate II
29.3
17.4
Certificate I
14.6
4.8
Certificate - level not known
2.5
1.8
Senior secondary
0.1
0.2
Other recognised course
7.1
6.9
Non-award course
9.7
22.7
Module only - no qualification
4.4
5.0
Total
100.0
100.0

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research 2000 Australian Vocational Education and Training Statistics.


Indigenous VET students in 2000 were less likely to be studying for higher level qualifications than all students. About 13% of Indigenous students were studying at the Certificate IV level or above in 2000, compared with 21% of all VET students. The proportion of Indigenous VET students studying at the Certificate I or II level was twice that of all students (44% compared with 22%).

While Indigenous VET participation increased over the 1990s, success in vocational education is ultimately dependent upon successful completion of modules. In 2000, the rate of VET module completions was lower for Indigenous students (61%) than for the total VET student population (75%). Of those modules not completed, the rate of unsuccessful results for Indigenous students was higher than that for all students (17% compared with 10%). In 2000, 14% of modules attempted by Indigenous VET students were recorded as withdrawals, compared with 8% for all VET students.

VET MODULE OUTCOMES(a) - 2000

Indigenous students
All students
%
%

Completions
60.8
75.1
    Assessed - successful
54.2
62.5
    Non-assessed - completed
3.6
6.3
    Recognition of prior learning
1.2
2.5
    Credit transfer
1.8
3.9
Non-completions
39.2
24.9
    Assessed - not successful
16.6
10.1
    Non-assessed - not completed
0.6
0.4
    Withdrawn
14.2
8.2
    Continuing studies
7.8
6.2

(a) Module outcomes where the result was not stated were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research 2000 Australian Vocational Education and Training Statistics


Higher education
It is in the higher education sector that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are most underrepresented. In 2000, Indigenous students made up 1.2% of the total student population (a proportion which has changed little since 1996). Continuing low Year 12 apparent retention rates, and a high rate of attrition among Indigenous higher education students contribute to the low level of participation in this sector.4 While there has been little change in the proportion of Indigenous students in higher education, data relating to higher education commencements indicate that between
1997 and 2000 there has been a decline in the number of Indigenous students beginning higher education courses.5

INDIGENOUS HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS BY FIELD OF STUDY - 2000

Indigenous students(a)
As a proportion of all students(b)
Field of study(c)
no.
%

Agriculture, Animal husbandry
122
0.9
Architecture, Building
56
0.8
Arts, Social Science, Humanities
2,794
1.8
Business administration, Economics
663
0.5
Education
2,024
2.8
Engineering, Surveying
102
0.2
Health, Community Services
972
1.4
Law, Legal Studies
470
1.4
Science
446
0.4
Veterinary Science, Animal Care
17
-
Total(d)
7,350
1.2

(a) Includes students enrolled in more than one field of study.
(b) Excludes overseas students.
(c) Field of study as described by DETYA.
(d) Includes students studying non-award courses.

Source: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) 2000, Students 2000: Selected Higher Education Statistics, DETYA, Canberra.


Along with the underrepresentation in higher education, there was also a notable gender imbalance among Indigenous higher education students in 2000, with females accounting for 64% of Indigenous students (compared with females accounting for 55% of all students).

Participation in higher education varied for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students according to field of study. In 2000, nearly 40% of Indigenous higher education students were studying Arts, Social Sciences, or Humanities (compared with 27% of all students). The proportions of Indigenous students studying Education, Health or Community Services were also higher than for other students, while smaller proportions of Indigenous students were studying Architecture, Business Administration, Engineering and Science.

LEVEL OF STUDY OF HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS - 2000

Indigenous students
All students(a)
Level of study
%
%

Doctorate
1.3
4.1
Master's degree
4.5
7.9
Graduate (post) diploma
2.4
5.0
Graduate certificate
1.0
1.8
Bachelor degree
59.1
77.3
Associate degree
2.1
0.4
Advanced diploma
4.8
0.5
Diploma
9.7
1.0
Other award courses
0.4
0.3
Enabling courses
14.5
0.6
Non-award courses
0.2
1.0
Total
100.0
100.0

(a) Excludes overseas students.

Source: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs 2000 Higher Education Statistics Collection.


As with Vocational Education and Training, Indigenous higher education students were less likely to be studying for a high level qualification than other students. In 2000, 68% of Indigenous higher education students were studying for a bachelor degree or higher compared with 96% of all students. The proportion of Indigenous students participating in post-graduate study was less than half that of all students (9% compared with 19%). In contrast, Indigenous students were more likely than other students to be studying for diplomas (10% of Indigenous students compared with less than 1% of the total student population).

Indigenous students in higher education recorded fewer passes and more failures compared with all students. In 2000, 58% of unit completions were recorded as a pass for Indigenous students, compared with 79% for all students. The rate of unit failure for Indigenous higher education students was more than double that of all students (26% compared with 10% of all students).

HIGHER EDUCATION UNIT COMPLETIONS - 2000

Indigenous students
All students
%
%

Passed
57.7
78.6
Withdrew
4.3
2.2
Failed
26.0
10.4
Total(a)
100.0
100.0

(a) Includes completion status not yet determined.

Source: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs 2000 Higher Education Statistics Collection.


Graduate outcomes
While students from the VET and higher education sectors usually have quite different demographic and labour force profiles, the focus for most graduates from both sectors is generally centred on either seeking employment or continuing their studies.

In 1999, 1.9% of VET graduates and 0.7% of higher education graduates were Indigenous. Indigenous VET graduates in the labour force were less likely to be employed than all VET graduates in the labour force in May of the following year (76% compared with 87% were employed). This may have been due to Indigenous VET graduates having a greater proportion of lower level qualifications.

The 1999 Indigenous higher education graduates in the labour force had similar outcomes to all higher education graduates. Nearly 95% were in paid employment four to five months after completing their studies.

PROPORTION OF 1999 GRADUATES EMPLOYED IN 2000(a)(b)

(a) Based on the population of graduates in the labour force (that is, either seeking employment or in employment).
(b) VET graduates were surveyed in May; higher education graduates were surveyed in April or October, depending on whether they completed their studies mid-year or at the end of the year.

Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research 2000 Student Outcomes Survey; Graduate Careers Council of Australia 2000 Graduate Destination Survey.


Endnotes
1 Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) 2000, The National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy
<URL: http://www.detya.gov.au/schools/publications/LNS_March2000.pdf> accessed 15 January 2002.

2 Robinson, C. and Bamblett, L. 1998, Making a difference: The impact of Australia's Indigenous education and training policy, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Adelaide.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Experimental projections of the Indigenous population, 1996-2006, cat. no. 3231.0, ABS, Canberra.

4 Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) 1999, Equity in Higher Education, Occasional Paper Series 99-A, Canberra.

5 Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) 2000, Higher Education Student Statistics, DETYA, Canberra.



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