Fees and the poor, again

And a further update: Theory saved! If I take out the private providers that have been added to the statistics, low SES commencing students go up from 15.16% in 2004 to 15.20% in 2005. Of the total student population, they increase from 14.62% to 14.67%. These are extremely small differences, but in the direction I predicted.


The trouble with using evidence is that sometimes you have to admit that you could be wrong. In making the argument below, I compared the 2005 Higher Education Report with the 2004 version (pdf). The 2005 report said that low SES students were 14.5% of the total in 2005 and the 2004 version said 14.1% in 2004, so I concluded that the proportion of low SES students had increased between the two years.

But now the equity group spreadsheets are available. It says that the 2004 figure is 14.62%, not 14.1%. The fine print of the 2004 report says the numbers are not affected by changes of scope to enrolments – which they don’t explain, but which I think is a reference to a change in the way students are counted that was implemented a few years ago. Essentially, the earlier system was a snapshot in time at 31 March each year. But as more students enrolled mid-year, concern increased that this was inaccurate and the system was changed. The spreadsheet data, which I presume uses the now standard method of counting students, records 2,000 more low SES students than what I presume is a 31 March snapshot in the 2004 report. So I was not comparing like with like – though I will have to think about why you would get a higher percentage later in the year than earlier.

The next issue is commencing students. In absolute numbers, commencing low SES students are up by 2%. But in percentage terms, they are down 15.16% to 15.12%, contrary to my theory. However, the 2005 data includes private higher education providers that were not in the 2004 count. As they mostly charge full fees, perhaps they are less attractive to low SES students. It will take me a while to do a same institution 2004-2005 comparison, but I was almost certainly over-confident in my analysis yesterday.

Yesterday’s post:

I know evidence is but a flea on the elephant of intuition and ideology. But one aspect of the DEST Higher Education Report 2005, quietly put on the web late yesterday, is worth noting. This is the annual calculation of the proportion of domestic university students from a low socioeconomic background. The measure is, it should be pointed out, only a proxy. It is a postcode analysis, with anyone whose permanent home address is in a postcode in the lowest 25% as determined by the ABS Index of Education and Occupationdefined as ‘low SES’. Obviously, there are poor people in well-off areas and well-off people in poor areas. This limits it as an absolute measure of SES background of university students, but it is probably a reasonable trend measure, especially over the short term.
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