Another ‘free education’ puzzle

The next issue of Policy is going to run a series of short articles by CIS researchers on social policy myths. I’m writing about the myth that university charges deter students from low-income backgrounds, one which our new leader believes. There is the associated belief that Whitlam’s free education opened the university system. In December 2006 I reported on our now PM and Deputy PM on this subject:

According to Rudd, he “was inspired to improve the quality of and access to education because he was the first member of his family to attend university, largely because of the Whitlam government’s free tertiary education policies.”

Julia Gillard was reported as saying, “…courtesy of the Whitlam government, I then went to university and obtained two degrees. I fear that it is harder today for a girl from a working class background to make that journey than when I was young.”

In a book chapter published last year, ACER researchers Gary Marks and Julie McMillan analysed data from a dozen social surveys conducted between 1984 and 2001 with questions about both the respondent’s education level and his or her parents’ occupational group. Consistent with previous research, they found that working class people in the ‘free education’ cohort born between 1960 and 1969 had much lower rates of university qualification than the HECS cohort born after 1970 (though the oldest in that group would have had at least some free university education).

Though that was unsurprising, something else did seem odd: the 1960-69 free education group had lower overall rates of degree achievement (9.1%) than people born between 1950 and 1959 (11.4%), even though only those born in 1957 or later could have enrolled as school leavers in the Whitlam free education period from 1974 onwards. Continue reading “Another ‘free education’ puzzle”