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AGE GROUP DIFFERENCES
People are most likely to undertake their initial vocational or higher education qualification during their late teens and early twenties. This is evident when comparing education participation rates of people in the 15-24 year age group to subsequent age groups. In 2000, 56% of people aged 15-24 years were attending an educational institution, compared to 12% in the 25-34 year age group and yet lower proportions in older age groups.
Partly reflecting ongoing increases in levels of participation in education among younger age groups, the proportion of people with a non-school qualification was highest for those aged 25-34 years (54%) in 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of people with a non-school education qualification increased for all age groups.
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 years. Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of people in this age group participating at an educational institution increased from 6% to 8%.
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 females.(SEE FOOTNOTE 1) The differences between males and females in regard to educational attainment have become less pronounced. In 2000, a higher proportion of females in the 15-24 age group had non-school qualifications compared to males of the same age group. However, in the 25-64 age group, males continue to have a higher proportion with a non-school qualification, the difference increasing with age.
Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of females aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 37% to 44%, but for males the proportion only increased from 54% to 55%. These changes are more pronounced among younger age groups, particularly in regard to the attainment of higher education qualifications. In 2000, the proportion of females aged 25-34 years with a higher education qualification exceeded that of males (25% and 20% respectively), whereas a decade earlier the reverse was the case (10% of females and 13% of males).
Education participation rates and levels of educational attainment, people aged 15-64 years
Increasing female participation in senior secondary school and tertiary education is also evident. Since the mid 1970s, females have been more likely than males to continue through secondary school to the uppermost level of schooling, as indicated by Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rates.(SEE FOOTNOTE 2) This difference between males and females has continued to grow. In 2000, the Year 12 apparent retention rate for females was 79% compared to 66% for males. The increasing difference in participation and achievement levels of males and females in the younger age groups, in particular in the school system, has recently given rise to concerns about male success in education.(SEE FOOTNOTE 3)
Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate(a)(SEE FOOTNOTE 2)
Female students as a proportion of all students
The representation of females in both the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education sectors has also increased over time. Females have outnumbered males in higher education throughout the 1990s, with the proportion of all students who were female rising from 53% in 1990 to 56% in 2000. In the VET sector, female students are yet to surpass male students, but the female proportion increased from 45% to 49% over the decade.
Surveys conducted over recent decades have consistently shown that a higher proportion of Australia's overseas born population had a non-school qualification compared to the Australian born population.(SEE FOOTNOTE 4)
Levels of educational attainment have also generally increased among successive waves of migrants. Data from the ABS's 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 non-school 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.(SEE FOOTNOTE 5)
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLES
Levels of educational participation and attainment among Indigenous Australians remain well below those of non-Indigenous Australians, but there have been some increases over time. Data from the 1991 and 1996 Censuses of Population and Housing (2001 Census data are not yet available) showed that the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 25-64 years with a vocational or higher education qualification increased from 10% to 14% between 1991 and 1996. The proportion with a Bachelor degree or above increased from 1% to 3% over the same period.(SEE FOOTNOTE 6)
Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate(a)(SEE FOOTNOTE 2)
Among Indigenous Australians aged 15-19 years, the 1996 Census data reveal a relatively low rate of participation in education (46%), which was similar to the proportion in 1991 (47%).
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, suggest that an increasing proportion of Indigenous Australians are progressing through to the highest level of secondary school. Between 1994 and 2000 the Year 12 apparent retention rate for Indigenous students increased from 33% to 36%. However, some of the increase may be affected by the increased tendency of some Australians to identify as Indigenous.(SEE FOOTNOTE 7)
The differences across the States and Territories in the proportion of persons aged 25-64 years whose highest level of educational attainment was a vocational qualification are relatively small (ranging between 30% and 34% in 2000). However, the proportions of persons with higher education qualifications differ more substantially, ranging from 33% in the Australian Capital Territory to 13% 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 2000 (87%) while the Northern Territory had the lowest (50%). 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 45% in 1990 to 70% in 2000.
Highest level of educational attainment, people aged 25-64 years - 2000
Aside from students taking up options other than completing school education (such as vocational education and training, or employment), the greater fall in apparent retention rates seen in some States earlier in the decade, particularly South Australia, may be related to increasing numbers of students opting to complete upper levels of secondary school on a part-time basis.(SEE FOOTNOTE 8) Part-time students are excluded from the calculation of the Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rates.
Year 7 to Year 12 apparent retention rate, States/Territories in which secondary school commences in Year 7(a)(SEE FOOTNOTE 2)
Year 8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate, States/Territories in which secondary school commences in Year 8(a)(SEE FOOTNOTE 2)
1 Mackay H. 1993, Reinventing Australia. The mind and mood of Australia in the 90s, Angus and Roberston, Sydney.
2 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 relevant school student population.
3 Buckingham J. 2000, Boy Troubles: Understanding rising suicide, rising crime and educational failure, The Centre of Independent Studies, St. Leonards.
4 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.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, "Coming to Australia", in Australian Social Trends, 2001, Cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra.
6 For published Census information concerning Australia.s Indigenous people, see Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Census of Population and Housing: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Australia, 1996, Cat. no. 2034.0, ABS, Canberra.
7 The increased propensity of people to identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has been most apparent from time series comparisons of Census data. It is expected that this trend would also be reflected in school administrative data on which the Year 7/8 to Year 12 apparent retention rate is based. The increased propensity of people to identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander within a given cohort will tend to increase the number of Year 12 students who identify as Indigenous in Year 12 but did not identify as such in earlier years, thereby raising the apparent retention rate. For an analysis of changes observed in Census data see Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Occasional Paper: Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996, Cat. no. 2034.0, ABS, Canberra.
8 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.