2021 Census shows higher rates of higher education

Media Release

New analysis of Census data has delivered insights into changes in qualifications in Australia over time.

In 2021, more than half of people aged 15 and over (54.7 per cent or 11.4 million) had completed a non-school qualification. This was more than double the rate (24.2 per cent) of people in 1981.

The gap in attainment of qualifications between males and females has closed in the past 40 years. In 1981, there were around 750,000 more males than females with a non-school qualification. In 2021, the trend had reversed with 110,000 more females than males. There were just under one million females with a non-school qualification in 1981. That number jumped to 5.7 seven million in 2021.

Duncan Young, General Manager, Census, said “Every stats tells a story, and the 2021 Census tells the story of the changes in Australian study and qualifications over the last 40 years.

“The employment landscape has changed a lot since the 1980’s. The proportional increase in non-school qualifications is partly a reflect of the change in the workforce, with a higher proportion of jobs requiring a qualification as an entry requirement than in 1981.

“There has also been an increase in jobs that require expertise in new and emerging technologies such ICT professionals and software developers.

“The growth in females with non-school qualifications has mirrored the growth of female participation in the labour force over this same period.”

There were 2.4 million males with a certificate level qualification in 2021, and this has remained the most common non-school qualification for males since 1981.

The most common non-school qualification for females was a bachelor degree (2.0 million), which has been the case since 1996.

In 2021, over 1 million females reported having a post graduate qualification compared with 830,000 males.

Qualifications in Business and Management, Accounting, Food and Hospitality and Teacher Education were popular with both males and females.

Qualifications in Construction, Engineering and IT were more popular with males and qualifications in Nursing, Human welfare and Behavioural Science were more popular with females.

In addition to people who have received a qualification, there were 1.8 million current tertiary students aged 15 years and over (9.7 per cent of the total population aged 15 years and over) in 2021.

Of these students, over 600,000 (33.6 per cent) were undertaking vocational education, and 1.2 million (66.2 per cent) were at university or in other higher education.

Further analysis can be found in the article ‘Education in Australia - from abc to A’s, B’s and C’s’.

Media notes

  • When reporting ABS data, you must attribute the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or the ABS) as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS Media Team via media@abs.gov.au (8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri).
  • Search for 2021 Census data through the QuickStats tool.
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