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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1994  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/05/1994   
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Contents >> Education >> Educational Attainment: People with degrees

Educational Attainment: People with degrees

In 1991, 8% of people aged 15 years and over held a degree or higher educational qualification. This was more than four times the proportion in 1971.

The Australian population is becoming more qualified. Between 1971 and 1991 the proportion of people with a post-school qualification increased from 20% to 39%. Over that time, the proportion of men with a degree or higher qualification rose from 3% to 8% while the proportion of women rose from 1% to 7%.


Part of the increase in the proportion of people with degrees is a consequence of the progressive upgrading to degree status of courses which were at diploma level or lower in 1971. This includes many vocationally oriented qualifications in fields such as teaching, accounting, surveying, winemaking, nursing, theatre production etc., originally provided by the former institutes of technology, teachers' colleges, colleges of advanced education and technical colleges.


Changes in the nature of qualifications provided by higher education institutions have also been associated with changes in the structure of the higher education system. In the late 1980s, higher education institutions were combined into the Unified National System with expanded enrolment capacity. The transition to mass higher education is the outcome of an international movement which links higher education directly to national economic policies. This is part of a wider initiative to create a more highly educated labour force which will meet the needs of an economy with growth in the highly skilled occupational sectors.


Age and sex

The increased emphasis on higher education over the last 20 years is reflected in the proportions of people aged 25-44 years with degrees, which are higher than the proportion of those aged 45 years and over with degrees. The increase with age in the proportions of people with a degree, up to the 35-44 years age group, suggests that many people have obtained tertiary qualifications as mature age students. In 1992, 29% of people completing bachelor pass or honours degrees were aged 25 years or more and 18% were aged 30 years
or more1. Increasingly, education has been seen as a life-long learning process and the higher education system as not only providing for the 17-19 years age group but also as a community resource with the flexibility and adaptability to cope with the needs of different people at different stages of their lives and careers2.

Female higher education enrolments have exceeded male since 1987, and women's increased participation in higher education (see
Gender differences in higher education) is evident in the greater proportion of women with degrees in the 15-24 years age group. In addition, the difference between the proportions of men and women with degrees decreases with decreasing age.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE WITH A DEGREE OR HIGHER QUALIFICATION



Source: Census of Population and Housing.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE AGED 15-69 YEARS WITH A DEGREE OR HIGHER QUALIFICATION, 1993



Source: Survey of Labour Force Status and Educational Attainment



Birthplace

A higher proportion of people born overseas have a degree than do people born in Australia. This is the case for all age groups. However, there are differences between birthplace groups. In 1991, people born overseas in main English speaking countries were more likely to have a degree than those born in Australia, regardless of age. Among people born in non-English speaking countries, younger people (aged under 55 years) were more likely than the Australian born to have a degree, and those aged 55 years and over were less likely.
These differences reflect Australia's immigration history.

Many of the older people born in non-English speaking countries migrated to Australia in the post-war period up to the 1960s. They include in particular, Eastern Europeans displaced after World War II and Italian and Greek born people. Post-war immigration sought to build Australia's population and to provide a labour force for the expanding manufacturing industry. There was no specific focus on educational qualifications. More recently, however, labour shortages, many of which have been associated with professional occupations and higher levels of qualifications, have become important in the selection of immigrants.


Within the major groupings of birthplaces, considerable variations exist. As noted above, among Greek and Italian born people, many of whom have been in Australia for 20-30 years, there are low proportions of people with degrees. Among the Vietnamese born, who are part of a recent migration wave, the proportion with degrees is only slightly lower than the proportion for the Australian born. Although many would have been accepted as migrants through the refugee and humanitarian elements of Australia's migration program, the level of qualifications is also likely to have been a consideration for selection for some of them. People born in Hong Kong have been a significant component of recently arriving migrants (see
Birthplaces of Australia's settlers) and have more than twice the proportion of people with degrees as the Australian born (22% compared to 10%). Other country of birth groups with high proportions of people with degrees include USA (45%), Philippines (41%), India (36%) and Malaysia (31%). It should be noted that these figures include overseas students undertaking post-graduate study in Australia.
PROPORTION OF PEOPLE AGED 15 YEARS OR MORE WITH A DEGREE OR HIGHER QUALIFICATION BY BIRTHPLACE, 1991

Overseas

Australia
MESC(a)
NESC(b)
All overseas
Total
Age group (years)
%
%
%
%
%

15-24
4.7
7.2
7.4
7.2
5.4
25-34
13.6
16.1
22.3
19.2
15.3
35-44
14.6
17.3
18.7
18.0
15.8
45-54
10.6
13.8
11.4
12.4
11.5
55-64
7.2
9.8
6.1
7.6
7.6
65 and over
7.0
7.9
6.5
7.2
7.3
Total
9.8
12.8
13.2
12.9
10.8


(a) Main English speaking countries - United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, USA, South Africa, New Zealand.
(b) Non-English speaking countries - overseas countries excluding main English speaking countries.

Source: Census of Population and Housing

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE AGED 15 YEARS OR MORE WITH A DEGREE OR HIGHER BY SELECTED COUNTRIES OF BIRTH, 1991

UK & Ireland
New Zealand
Italy
Greece
Viet Nam
Hong Kong
Age group
%
%
%
%
%
%

15-24
7.9
3.7
5.7
8.7
5.0
8.2
25-34
15.2
10.4
9.4
14.5
10.5
32.4
35-44
15.3
12.0
7.4
6.5
13.9
26.3
45-54
11.5
13.4
2.0
1.2
14.3
27.2
55-64
8.2
14.0
0.7
1.0
6.2
24.7
65+
6.8
13.5
0.9
1.3
4.0
12.7
Total
11.6
10.2
3.5
4.3
9.7
21.7


Source: Census of Population and Housing
Classifying field of study

In the 1991 Census, information was recorded only for the highest level of qualification obtained. The data therefore provide an incomplete picture of the full range of qualifications held. This is the case for people with more than one bachelor degree as well as for those with post-graduate qualifications which complement rather than extend an initial degree e.g. Graduate Diploma in Education, Master of Business Management.



Field of study

27% of people with a degree (or higher qualification) were qualified in the field of society and culture, which includes arts, humanities, social and behavioural sciences, economics and law. Almost 20% of people with a degree or higher had education qualifications, while 9% had engineering qualifications. Over the last 20 years, there have been shifts in the fields of study in which people have obtained their degrees or higher awards, associated with the growth and decline of demand for particular occupations. More recently, the government has encouraged educational institutions to give priority to certain courses of study identified as being under-supplied in the labour force. These include computer science, environmental studies, engineering, accountancy and business studies, Asian studies, and teacher education in mathematics, science and foreign languages.


Those fields of study which have increased their share of qualifications at degree level or higher include education, sales and marketing, behavioural studies, environmental science and computer science. In the case of education, the last 20 years has seen the upgrading of primary and pre-primary teaching qualifications to degree status with opportunities provided for diploma level qualifications to be converted to degrees.


One of the fastest growing fields of study is computer science. Of people who graduated before 1971, less than half a percent held computer science qualifications. Of those graduating at degree level or higher between 1988 and 1991, 4% had obtained computer science qualifications, more than graduated in either economics or law. While environmental science has been one of the faster growing fields of study, this growth has been from a low base and in 1991 less than 4,000 people (0.4% of those with degrees) were qualified in that field.


Those fields of study with a declining share of total graduates over the past 20 years include economics, law, engineering, and the physical sciences (which includes physics and chemistry). In the case of economics it is possible, particularly during the 1980s, that people qualified in the related area of commerce.


Associated with the trend towards higher level qualifications has been a trend towards the possession of more than one qualification often in different fields. However, no information is available from the population census to address this in any detail.
FIELD OF STUDY OF PEOPLE WITH A DEGREE OR HIGHER QUALIFICATION, 1991



Source: Census of Population and Housing

SELECTED FIELDS OF STUDY BY YEAR QUALIFICATION ATTAINED, 1991

Pre-1971
1971-80
1981-87
1988-91
Total
Field of Study
%
%
%
%
'000

Business and administration
11.9
11.6
14.2
16.8
135.1
      Sales and marketing
0.2
0.5
1.1
1.7
8.6
      Accounting
9.4
7.0
7.4
7.8
77.2
Education
12.6
21.6
21.2
19.2
191.5
Society and culture
24.1
26.8
26.6
29.1
266.3
      Behavioural studies
4.3
6.4
6.2
7.3
61.0
      Economics
4.2
4.1
3.0
3.3
35.8
      Law
5.1
4.2
3.7
3.0
39.3
Natural science
12.0
13.0
13.4
13.8
130.5
      Environmental science
0.1
0.3
0.5
0.7
3.9
      Physical science
5.2
3.8
3.1
2.6
35.7
      Computer science
0.2
1.6
3.4
3.9
23.6
Engineering
11.5
9.1
8.0
5.9
85.2
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
All persons with degree or higher
191.5
279.2
304.6
206.3
996.7


Source: Census of Population and Housing


Small area concentrations

Higher levels of education are generally associated with professional occupations and higher incomes. It is therefore not surprising to observe that those areas with the highest concentration of people with degrees generally correspond to the higher socioeconomic areas of the capital cities. Those areas adjacent to universities are also evident, for example, St Lucia in Queensland, Nedlands in Western Australia and Turner in the Australian Capital Territory.


The Australian Capital Territory has the highest proportion of people with degrees of all States and Territories, and the highest small area concentrations of people with degrees in the country. This reflects the different structure of its labour force. In 1991, 22% of employed people in the Australian Capital Territory were in professional occupations compared to 13% of all employed people .


In Tasmania the distribution of people with degrees is particularly highly skewed with only four Local Government Authority areas (LGAs) having proportions of people with degrees above the State average. The LGAs of Hobart, Kingborough, Port Cygnet and Beaconsfield contain 45% of the people with degrees but only 21% of the population.
AREAS(a) WITH HIGHEST PROPORTION OF PEOPLE WITH DEGREES OR HIGHER QUALIFICATIONS, 1991

%
%
%

New South Wales
11.7
South Australia
9.2
Northern Territory
11.4
      North Sydney
33.8
      Adelaide
27.0
      City - Inner
23.2
      Woollahra
33.8
      Burnside
24.8
      Larrakeyah
22.1
      Mosman
32.5
      Kensington & Norwood
23.3
      South Alligator
20.9
      Sydney
32.3
      Walkerville
23.3
      Fannie Bay
18.0
      Ku-ring-gai
30.8
      St Peters
23.0
      Jabiru
17.0
Victoria
12.3
Western Australia
10.3
Aust. Capital Territory
23.5
      Hawthorn
31.3
      Subiaco
33.7
      Forrest
46.7
      Kew
30.5
      Nedlands
32.1
      Turner
46.0
      Fitzroy
30.4
      Peppermint Grove
31.4
      Campbell
41.4
      Melbourne
29.5
      Cottesloe
29.8
      Aranda
40.2
      Prahran
29.3
      Claremont
25.8
      Deakin
39.4
Queensland
9.1
Tasmania
9.1
Australia
11.2
      Taringa
33.6
      Hobart
22.6
      St Lucia
33.1
      Kingborough
15.4
      Chapel Hill
31.4
      Port Cygnet
10.0
      Brookfield
30.5
      Beaconsfield
9.4
      Indooroopilly
29.6
      Launceston
8.8


(a) Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) in Queensland, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, Local Government Authorities (LGAs) in all other States.

Source: Census of Population and Housing.



Endnotes

1 Department of Employment, Education and Training
Higher Education Statistics.

2 Higher Education Council (1990)
Higher education: the challenges ahead.



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