4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All  

Social issues


The level of education attained by a particular population group is a crucial indicator of the ability of that group to meet the expectations of industry and the labour market. It can also indicate the success or otherwise of government initiatives to improve educational outcomes. It can be an indicator of the social capability of a population group, and their socioeconomic status, and may explain low or high levels of wellbeing in the other areas of social concern. Educational attainment data provides an understanding of the level of human capital in the population at a point in time, an understanding of the skill level of the working-age population, and an indicator of socioeconomic difference.

There have been changes in the overall level of education attained by Australians over the last few decades. People are staying at school longer and more people are continuing their education to tertiary levels. More significantly, there has been an increase in the proportion of people going on to higher education. There has also been a shift in the educational experience of women, with a larger proportion of women completing higher levels of education.

Educational attainment is strongly correlated with literacy levels and appears also to be associated with a range of aspects of social capital.1 Thus higher levels of education bring more generalised benefits to the community than simply those associated with individuals gaining specific vocational skills or knowledge.


It is important to monitor the under or over supply of people with particular qualifications in order to match educational objectives with labour market demands. It is also important to monitor how well skills and knowledge are keeping pace with contemporary means of production and changes in technology. Information on field of education, particularly changes in patterns of participation and attainment in particular fields, is useful for these reasons.

People working in jobs which do not utilise their qualifications may be underemployed. This type of underemployment has implications for both workforce productivity and individual fulfilment. When analysed in conjunction with occupation data, field of educational qualification can shed light on this issue.


There are issues surrounding the allocation of responsibility for delivering and financing work based training. Statistics can be used to inform debate about the most effective or appropriate way of distributing this responsibility between government, employers, employees and training providers.


Because education and training can have a profound effect on the ability of individuals to achieve their potential and participate fully in society, identifying barriers to education and training is a key concern of governments and communities.

An obvious barrier can be the affordability of education and training. There has been an increase in the number of private providers of education and training over the last few decades. The shift in balance from public to private first mainly occurred in respect of vocational education and training services. However, in the last decade private universities have also come into being. In addition, a number of public providers of education are now offering full-fee paying courses, and higher education now also attracts fees, although the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) allows students to defer payment of fees until they are working and earning sufficient income. Education affordability also relates to how students manage to finance their living expenses while they are studying. This can be through part-time work, government support (youth allowance) or support from family.

Other potential barriers relate to the accessibility of education, for example, in terms of distance and cultural appropriateness. These issues are discussed further under 'Population groups'.


Equal access to educational opportunities does not guarantee equal educational outcomes. Students may encounter difficulties throughout their education or training that are not related to access, but which can affect both their desire and their ability to succeed. These can include cultural differences, poor literacy or numeracy skills, health conditions, and even the expectations (and level of education) of an individual's family or community.


In addition to the broader labour market implications, poor literacy or numeracy can be a serious impediment for people in their day to day life. If people are to improve their wellbeing via transactions undertaken within their social environment, it is crucial that they have the communication skills necessary to support those transactions. Successful educational outcomes are also highly dependent on adequate literacy and numeracy skills. How successful programs can be developed and targeted is of key interest to governments, as is the effectiveness of existing initiatives and programs.


Matching changing educational demands with an adequate supply of teachers and trainers is an ongoing issue. There is concern that there may be a general under-supply of teachers, academics and other education professionals within a few years due to the ageing of people in these occupations.

While primary and early childhood teaching has been mainly a female profession for a long time, secondary teaching is now also primarily attracting women. There have been some concerns raised about the effect of this on boys, as well as the implications of this for the perceived status of the profession of teaching within society.

There is some debate as to whether the esteem in which teaching professionals are held by our society has been falling. Society's valuation of teaching is difficult to measure but could be explored by, for example, examining whether teachers' levels of pay have kept pace with the earnings of other professionals.

The large increase in higher education enrolments in recent years has not been matched by similar increases in academic staffing. This can lead to higher student-to-staff ratios, which can in turn impact on the quality of student experiences. An associated issue is the number of education professionals
(both teachers and researchers) leaving the profession, or seeking work overseas.


The relationship between educational outcomes and the labour market can also be a focus of concern. The education and training sector needs to ensure that both teaching and curriculum content are relevant and reflect the current needs of the work force. In some cases, education and training programs may be targeted within particular regions to match the particular industry characteristics of those regions. Some other issues of interest are whether:

  • young people are successfully making the transition from education to work;
  • graduates are appropriately equipped to match local job opportunities;
  • there is an under or over supply of graduates / trainees in particular fields; and
  • the workforce has the necessary skills to meet changing needs of the workplace.

With the gradual shift in society's view of the purpose of education, there has been a shift in emphasis towards gaining education for economic reasons (e.g. to get a job, to increase productivity) rather than for civic or cultural reasons (e.g. to understand the world, to benefit society). While this new direction in education may equip graduates to meet the demands of specialised technical industries, it has raised some concerns about the devaluing of humanities or arts based education. These forms of education foster cultural awareness, understanding and tolerance, and artistic endeavour and appreciation. A decline in these forms of education may also result in some loss of the communication and creative skills that are an essential complement to technical skills.


Early childhood education is recognised as important in preparing children for school, and, more generally, for life. However, there is debate about when children should begin to be educated formally, and whether, and to what extent, early childhood education can affect later educational and employment outcomes. These issues are complicated by the difficulties associated with collecting information on early childhood education (see References and further reading - Early childhood education).

Previous PageNext Page