Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said a new report by the Productivity Commission was a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion about how to serve the growing need for skilled graduates in the economy.
“Building on the report Deloitte released last week, which said more than 80 per cent of jobs created between now and 2030 will be for ‘knowledge workers’, the Productivity Commission report addresses a fundamental policy and economic issue.”
The report found the uncapped university system — in place from 2010 to 2017 — opened higher education opportunities to increasing numbers of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
By the age of 25, nearly four in five of the students identified in the report had graduated or were still studying.
“The uncapped system allowed Australia to make the most of our talent, so that regardless of your background, you had the opportunity of a transformational university education.”
“Students from regional Australia, from low socio-economic and Indigenous backgrounds have traditionally been under-represented at universities.”
Ms Jackson said the report showed, despite experiencing significant barriers, many of these students succeeded and went on to earn as much as other graduates.
“There have been large strides forward in bringing more under-represented students into higher education — bringing huge benefits to them, their families and their communities over their lifetime.”
“These students were less well-prepared for tertiary study — but a university education has stopped them from falling behind.”
Ms Jackson said the uncapped system had extended opportunity to even more students than those identified by the Commission.
“The report only looks at ‘additional students’ – defined by the Commission as those under 25 years old who wouldn’t have otherwise gone to university.”
“This excludes the large number of older students — particularly those from disadvantaged groups — who entered university in this period. As the Productivity Commission itself points out, more than one third of Indigenous university students are aged over 30 years.”
“While the uncapped system was in place, Indigenous undergraduate student enrolments more than doubled. Enrolments of students with a disability rose 123 per cent, while students from regional and remote areas increased 50 per cent.”
Ms Jackson said that while these students may have been less likely or take longer to complete their studies, 68 per cent had graduated by age 25.
“It is to be expected that many of these students will take longer to complete and may need more support – that is no reason to exclude them.”
Even those that did not complete their studies stood to benefit. A recent La Trobe University study found that even students who did not complete their studies earned $7,500 more, on average, than people who never enrolled in the first place.