Earlier in the year I argued that the governments university equity policy focused on the lowest 25% of people by sociecononomic status was fundamentally flawed.
Using NAPLAN and Victorian Year 12 data I had found that the academic results of the lowest SES 25% (by occupation and postcode respectively) were little different from the second quartile. Consequently, the first quartile was too narrow a focus for policy.
An excellent new paper by University of Melbourne economist Mick Coelli, using higher education participation data from the census and the HILDA survey, puts this conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. Whichever way we look at SES: income, education, occupation or postcode the result is the same – the second quartile is very similar to and perhaps even worse off than the first quartile for their kids getting into university.
The main reason I think is that the first two quartiles have very similar levels of education – early school leaving and/or certificate I and II vocational qualifications – which leads to similar education outcomes for their kids.
Possibly the slightly better results for the lowest quartile in some datasets is due to their greater access to full Youth Allowance.
Coelli’s statistical analysis finds other interesting things. Having English as a second language is an advantage after controlling for other parental factors, presumably due to the ambitious pro-education attitudes of many migrant families. Being the eldest child is also an advantage (this would also include only children). Having a mother aged less than 40 is a disadvantage.
I don’t think we need affirmative action for people who speak English as a first language, are second or later children, or who have young mothers. But if we are going to target low SES people, the target group must be increased to the lowest 50%.