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People aged 25–64 with a vocational or higher education qualification
For the past ten years there has been an upward trend in the proportion of people with vocational or higher education qualifications. Between 1993 and 2003, the proportion of those aged 25-64 with a qualification increased from 45% to 55%. This increase continues a trend seen for many decades.
Progress and the headline indicator
Education and training help people to develop knowledge and skills that may be used to enhance their own living standards and those of the broader community. For an individual, educational attainment is widely seen as a key factor to a rewarding career. For the nation as a whole, having a skilled workforce is vital to supporting ongoing economic development and improvements in living conditions.
People can obtain knowledge and skills in many different fields, and in many different ways (both formal and informal). Schools, providers of vocational education and training, and universities, offer many courses. Much formal learning also takes place in the workplace (either on the job or in work-related training courses). In addition, people may gain knowledge and skills by simply pursuing their own interests. An indicator that recognised the sum of all knowledge and skills held by people would be desirable, but such an indicator is not available.
The progress indicators used here measure the attainment of formal non-school qualifications, and the levels of participation in education and training. The headline indicator is the proportion of the population aged 25-64 with a vocational or higher education qualification (see box).
The indicator shows that there has been a rise in the proportion of people with non-school qualifications. Between 1993 and 2003 the proportion of 25-64 year olds with a vocational or higher education qualification rose from 45% to 55%, continuing a trend seen for many decades.1,2
The increase over the last decade in the proportion of people with non-school qualifications is being driven by the substantial increase in the proportion of people with a higher education qualification (i.e. a bachelor degree or above). Between 1993 and 2003, the proportion of people aged 25-64 with a higher education qualification increased from 12% to 21%. The proportion of people whose highest qualification was a vocational qualification was 33% in 2003, the same level as a decade earlier.
Other indicators show that the increase in the overall levels of educational attainment continues to be supported by increasing levels of participation in education and training. For example, the proportion of 15-19 year olds who were students (either in school or studying for a vocational or higher education qualification) increased steadily between 1985 and 1997, from 61% to 77%, but has remained steady since.
The increases in the level of retention of secondary school students through to Year 12 seen during the 1980s and early 1990s have not continued at the same pace in recent years. The Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate (which estimates the retention of full-time students from the first year to the final year of secondary schooling)3 stood at 75% in 2003, about the same level as in 1994, and slightly below the 1992 peak of 77%. (The peak in 1992 occurred in a year of particularly high levels of unemployment - see the commentary Work.) Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates as they do not account for influences on the Australian school student population, which may have inflated the peak seen in 1992.4
Education participation rate(a) for those aged 15-19 years and Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate
Some differences in Australia
There are a range of differences throughout Australia in educational participation and attainment for different age groups, women and men, immigrants and Indigenous Australians.
Age group differences
Overall, there is an ongoing increase in levels of participation in education among younger age groups. In 2003, 56% of people aged 15-24 were enrolled in a course of study leading to a qualification, compared to 13% in the 25-34 year age group and yet lower proportions in older age groups. The proportion of people with a vocational or higher education qualification was highest for those aged 25-34 (60%) in 2003.
People are most likely to undertake their initial non-school qualifications during their late teens and early twenties. However, between 1993 and 2003, the proportion of people with a vocational or higher education qualification increased for all age groups. Part of this increase was driven by increased educational participation in all age groups. And part was from the ageing of the younger generations who had higher attainments than their predecessors.
Changes in educational attainment among older people have been influenced by shifts towards life long learning and the need to develop and update knowledge and skills required for changes in the labour market. This is shown by the increasing education participation rates of those aged 25-64. Between 1993 and 2003, the proportion of people in this age group attending an educational institution increased from 6% to 8%.
Education participation rates and levels of educational attainment, people aged 15-64 years
Sometimes referred to as a social revolution, changes in social attitudes concerning the roles and responsibilities of men and women in the latter part of the last century have influenced the education participation and attainment levels of women.5 The differences between men and women in regard to educational attainment have become less pronounced. In 2003, a higher proportion of women in the 15-24 age group had vocational or higher education qualifications compared to men of the same age group (27% and 25% respectively).
However, in the 25-64 age group, a higher proportion of men have a vocational or higher education qualification, the difference increasing with age. Between 1993 and 2003 the proportion of women (aged 25-64 years) with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 37% to 51%. For men, the proportion increased from 52% to 60%. These changes are more pronounced among younger age groups, particularly in regard to the attainment of higher education qualifications. In 2003, the proportion of women aged 25-34 years with a higher education qualification exceeded that of men (28% and 23% respectively), whereas a decade earlier the proportions for men and women aged 25-34 were both about 13%.
Increasing female participation in senior secondary school and tertiary education is also evident. Since the mid-1970s, women have been more likely than men to continue through secondary school to the uppermost level of schooling, as indicated by Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rates.3,4 This difference between men and women has continued to grow. In 2003, the Year 12 apparent retention rate for women was 81% compared to 70% for men. The increasing difference in participation and attainment levels of men and women in the younger age groups, in particular in the school system, has given rise to concerns about men's success in education.6
Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate(a)
Australia’s Human Capital Stock(a), by educational qualification
Immigration has helped to build the skill levels of the population. Taken as a whole, migrant groups tend to have higher levels of educational attainment than the Australian-born population.9
Levels of educational attainment have also generally increased among successive waves of migrants. Data from the ABS 1999 Characteristics of Migrants Survey found that 61% of those who arrived in the period 1997 to 1999, and were aged 18 years and over at that time, had a vocational or higher education qualification on arrival, compared to 57% of those who arrived between 1990 and 1996 and 51% of those who arrived between 1981 and 1989. The increased focus on the skilled migration component of Australia's migration program has contributed to this trend.10
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
There has been significant progress in the levels of education participation and educational attainment among Indigenous Australians in recent years, and a narrowing of the gaps in both participation and attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians over that period. However, both the levels of participation in education and training among Indigenous Australians and their levels of attainment remain well below those of non-Indigenous Australians.
Increases in the Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate for Indigenous students, for which data have been available on an annual basis since 1994, show an increasing proportion of Indigenous Australians progressing through to Year 12. Between 1994 and 2003 the Year 12 apparent retention rate for Indigenous students increased from 33% to 39%.
Between the 1996 Census and 2001 Census the proportion of Indigenous youth aged 15-19 attending an educational institution rose from 44% to 50%, closing somewhat the gap in participation when compared with the non-Indigenous population. During this period the proportion of Indigenous adults aged 25-64 with a vocational or higher education qualification also increased, from 17% to 22%. During this same period the proportion of non-Indigenous Australians with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 43% in 1996 to 48% in 2001.11
Gains in educational attainment were observed across geographic areas and in all age groups, although the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations increased with increasing geographic remoteness.
The proportion of Indigenous Australians with a bachelor degree or above increased from 3% in 1996 to 4% in 2001.
Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate(a)
Indigenous to non-Indigenous attainment ratios(a)(b)
The differences across the states and territories in the proportion of people aged 25-64 whose level of highest non-school qualification was a vocational qualification are relatively small (ranging between 28% for the Australian Capital Territory and 37% for Western Australia in 2003). However, the proportions of persons with higher education qualifications differ more substantially, ranging from 36% in the Australian Capital Territory to 16% in Tasmania. These differences may be related to a number of factors including: differences in the demand for highly skilled persons; differences in the age distribution of the individual state or territory populations; and the extent to which a particular state or territory may attract migrants (both interstate and international) with high levels of educational attainment.
There have been substantial differences in Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rates among the states and territories. The Australian Capital Territory had the highest apparent retention rate in 2003 (90%) while the Northern Territory had the lowest (56%). The general pattern of change in Year 12 apparent retention rates over the last decade has been similar in most of the states and territories, i.e. generally falling off from a peak in the early 1990s and remaining fairly stable since the mid-1990s. The drop-off from the early 1990s peak was more pronounced in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Contrary to the general pattern, Year 12 apparent retention rates increased substantially in Tasmania, from 61% in 1993 to 75% in 2003.3
The greater fall in apparent retention rates seen in some states earlier in the decade, particularly South Australia, may be partly related to increasing numbers of students opting to complete upper levels of secondary school on a part-time basis.12 Part-time students are excluded from the calculation of the Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rates.
Level of highest non-school qualification, people aged 25-64 years - 2003
Factors influencing change
The pace at which knowledge and skills are further developed within the population is influenced by many factors. Increasing requirements for high level skills and qualifications in the work force due to the changing nature of work (including technological change within industries and their changing structure) are important drivers of change.13 The policies of governments and industry groups in providing opportunities for people (especially young people) to develop their knowledge and skills also play an important role in educational participation and attainment. Australia's continued interest in attracting skilled migrants from other countries may also help to increase the attainment levels of Australia's population.9
The representation of women in both the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education sectors has also increased over time. Women have outnumbered men in higher education throughout the last decade. The proportion of students who were female rose from 54% in 1993 to 57% in 2003. In the VET sector, the proportion of female students is yet to exceed that of male students, but the proportion of women increased from 46% to 50% over the decade.
Female students as a proportion of all students(a)
Links to other dimensions of progress
The ongoing development of people's knowledge and skills influences many dimensions of progress. Increased education and training may support economic development by providing people with specialised skills capable of increasing levels of productivity and of extending the range and quality of goods and services produced. Education and training may also serve to improve our capability to address a wide range of public health and welfare issues, as well as various environmental problems. From an individual's perspective, educational participation and attainment can help to improve outcomes in areas such as employment, income and health.
The opportunity to participate in education and training in turn depends on a broad range of social, economic, and individual factors including health, economic circumstances, established support mechanisms, and access to education and training. See also the commentaries National income, Work, Financial hardship, Crime, Health, and Productivity.
(b) In 1994, qualifications of nurses were treated separately, which resulted in some movement of data relating to level of qualifications.
(c) In 1997, prompt cards were no longer used and computer assisted coding methodology was adopted, resulting in changes in the relative distribution within vocational education qualifications.
(d) In 2001, the ABSCQ was replaced by the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) cat. no. 1272.0. The ASCED is a national standard classification, which can be applied to all sectors of the Australian education system including schools, vocational education and training and higher education.
3 The 'Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate' is the number of full-time students in Year 12 divided by the number of full-time students in the first year of secondary school (Year 7 in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania; Year 8 in Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia) when the Year 12 cohort began secondary school. Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates as they do not account for students repeating a year or migrating into or out of the Australian school student population.
4 Ryan, C. and Watson, L., Australian National University, Centre for Economic Policy Research 2003, Factors affecting Year 12 retention rates across Australian states and territories in the 1990s, ANU, Canberra.
5 Mackay, H. 1993, Reinventing Australia. The mind and mood of Australia in the 90s, Angus and Roberston, Sydney.
6 Buckingham, J. 2000, Boy Troubles: Understanding rising suicide, rising crime and educational failure, The Centre for Independent Studies, St. Leonards.
7 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Measuring the Stock of Human Capital for Australia - Experimental Estimates cat. no. 1350.0 (in press), ABS, Canberra.
8 There is a wealth of research on the link between education and economic growth. For recent Australian research see Chou, Y. K. 'The Australian growth experience, 1960-2000: Human capital, R&D or steady-state growth', in The Australian Economic Review, Vol 36, Melbourne, 2003.
9 For example, in 1997, 53% of persons aged 15-64 years in the survey population (see note below) born outside Australia had a non-school qualification, compared to 47% among Australian-born. Among those born outside Australia, those who spoke English as their first language were more likely to hold a non-school qualification (58%) than those who first spoke another language (49%). See Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Education and Training, Australia, 1998, cat. no. 4224.0, ABS, Canberra.
Note: the population in the 1997 Survey of Education and Training includes those persons who were in or marginally attached to the labour force, or in full-time or part-time education, or who had a wage or salary job in the 12 months prior to the survey.
For details of analysis of other data about migrants from the 1980s, see Australian Bureau of Statistics 1989, Overseas Born Australians, 1988: A Statistical Profile, (cat. no. 4112.0), ABS, Canberra.
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, 'Coming to Australia', in Australian Social Trends, 2001, cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra.
11 For published Census information concerning Australia's Indigenous people, see Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Census of Population and Housing: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 4713.0, ABS, Canberra.
12 For example, in 2000, 85% of all students in South Australia, including those attending on a part-time basis, had continued from Year 10 to Year 12, compared with 70% for full time students only. See Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision (SCRCSSP) 2002, Report on Government Services 2002, Vol. 1. Ausinfo, Canberra.
13 Economic Planning Advisory Council (EPAC) 1996, The Changing Australian Labour Market, AGPS, Canberra.