1370.0 - Measuring Australia's Progress, 2002  
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Contents >> The headline indicators >> Education and training

People aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification
Graph - People aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification

Overall, the proportion of people with a vocational or higher education qualification continues to rise. Although school retention rates were lower in 2000 than in the early 1990s, people aged 15-19 years are more likely to be participating in education and training than ever before. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

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 indicators of educational progress used here measure the attainment of formal non-school qualifications, and the levels of participation in education and training. The main indicator is the proportion of the population aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification (see box). The age range selected identifies an age group where most people have completed any initial non-school qualifications. The indicator shows that there has been a slight upward trend in the level of educational attainment. Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of those aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 46% to 50%. This increase marks the continuation of a trend seen for many decades. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)


The relatively small increase over the last decade in the proportion of people with either a vocational or higher education qualification masks a more substantial increase in the proportion of people with higher education qualifications (i.e. a Bachelor degree or above). Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of people aged 25-64 years with higher education qualifications increased from 10% to 18%. The proportion of people whose highest qualification was a vocational qualification declined from 36% in 1990 to 31% in 2000. This decline may be due in part to increases in the number of people with both a vocational and a higher education qualification. (SEE FOOTNOTE 4) Some part of the decline may also have been associated with changes to the ABS survey from which these data come. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)

Other indicators show that the increase in 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 non-school qualification) increased steadily between 1985 and 2000, from 61% to 78%.

Despite the general increase in education participation rates, the increasing levels of retention of secondary school students through to the uppermost level of secondary school seen during the 1980s through to 1992 have not continued. 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) (SEE FOOTNOTE 1) has remained stable over recent years (at about 72% between 1994 and 2000) after falling from the 1992 peak (77%). (The peak in 1992 occurred in a year of particularly high levels of unemployment - see the commentary Work.)


The educational attainment indicators refer to vocational and higher education qualifications (defined below) which, when taken together, are also referred to as non-school qualifications. Qualifications are defined as an award of attainment from an accredited educational institution as the result of formal learning. From 1993, courses with less than one semester's study have been deemed not to be a recognised non-school educational qualification.

Vocational education qualifications are gained at educational institutions providing skilled or basic vocational courses, e.g. Technical and Further Education institutions. This indicator includes non-school qualifications up to the level of Undergraduate or Associate Diploma.

Higher education qualifications are gained at educational institutions providing higher education courses, e.g. universities. For this indicator they refer to the levels of Bachelor degree and above.

There have been some changes in the way in which information about qualifications has been collected and recorded. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3) While these changes involve relatively small numbers of people, they help to account for some of the dips seen in the time series.


Educational outcomes for females have continued to improve through the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000 the proportion of females (aged 25-64 years) with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 37% to 44%. For males the proportion increased slightly, from 54% to 55%.

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 Australia-born population, particularly as a result of Australia's skilled migration policies. (SEE FOOTNOTE 5)

While there has been progress in levels of educational attainment among Indigenous Australians, both their levels of participation in education and training and their levels of attainment remain well below that of the total population. The trends for these and other population groups are explored further in the commentary Education and training: Looking more closely.

Education participation rate(a) for those aged 15-19 years and Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate
Graph - Education participation rate(a) for those aged 15-19 years and Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate


The pace at which knowledge and skills are further developed within the population is influenced by many factors. Increasing requirements of 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. (SEE FOOTNOTE 6) 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. (SEE FOOTNOTE 5)


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, Economic disadvantage and inequality, Crime, Health, Productivity, and Knowledge and innovation.


1 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.

2 Data for 1969 and 1982 show that the proportion of people aged 20-64 years (a slightly larger age group than that used as the main indicator in this report) who had a non-school qualification increased from 20% to 42%. See Australian Bureau of Statistics 1984, Social Indicators, Australia, No. 4, Cat. no. 4101.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 There have been three major breaks in the series between 1990 to 2000. The breaks listed below are considered to have impacted mainly on the comparability of data relating to vocational education and training qualifications.

(a) In 1993 the ABS introduced a new method of classifying data relating to educational qualifications and level of course. More information can be found in Australian Bureau of Statistics 1993, Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ), Cat. no. 1262.0, ABS, Canberra.

(b) In 1994 qualifications of nurses were treated separately, which resulted in some movement of data relating to level of qualification.

(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.

Further information can be found in the Explanatory Notes from Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Transition from Education to Work, Australia, 2000, Cat. no. 6227.0, ABS, Canberra.

4 Analysis of the 1997 Survey of Education and Training (which collected information about more than one non-school qualification) showed that almost 6% of persons aged 25-64 years 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, had both a Bachelor degree or higher level qualification and an Undergraduate or Associate Diploma or lower level non-school qualification.

5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, "Coming to Australia", in Australian Social Trends, 2001, Cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra.

6 See Economic Planning Advisory Council (EPAC) 1996, The Changing Australian Labour Market, AGPS, Canberra.

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