…we can be pretty confident that the significant increase in the number of places in the last few years will continue to increase low SES shares of commencing students. There is a leading indicator of this in the statistics on accepted offers by Year 12 score, with the below-70 group continuing to increase its share of the total.
Fortunately, not one for the ‘corrections and clarifications’ category. As predicted, the 2007 ‘equity’ enrolment data released today (in the ‘appendices’) shows that low SES commencing students are indeed up between 2006 and 2007. Overall, the increase is about 5%.
Unfortunately more detailed comparisons between 2006 and 2007 are complicated, because the definition of low SES – a postcode in the bottom 25% – changes with each census. The total numbers for earlier years have been recalculated with 2006 census data, but not the institutional numbers.
Changes in the private provider category have also complicated things – not only are more institutions listed as they acquired access to FEE-HELP, but these providers are now reporting all students, not just those getting FEE-HELP. If I revise upwards their 2006 low SES numbers by the overall upward revision (just under 1%), the absolute number of low SES commencing students recorded at private providers is up by about 380, but the percentage of all their commencing enrolments who are low SES has declined by 1.1% to 11.8%.
For the public universities, also increasing the 2006 base by 1%, their absolute numbers increased by about 1,400 and the percentage increased from 15.6% to 16.1%. Not coincidentally in my analysis, the number of additional acceptances in the 70 and under ENTER range between 2006 and 2007 was about 1,500.
Apart from 2001 – the peak of the ‘over-enrolments’, ie enrolments above the funded number of places – this is the highest low SES commencing share in the trend series going back to 1991.
It’s another nail in the coffin of the HECS-deters argument. In 1991, HECS fees were a flat $1,993 a year, regardless of course – and universities then enrolled a lower percentage (15.1%) of low SES comencing students than in 2008, when the cheapest course is more than $4,000 a year, and the most expensive is $8,500 a year.
School results and supply factors are by far the most important factors determining who goes to university. In recent years, two trends – an increase in the number of Commonwealth-supported places and an under-analysed downward trend in high-ENTER students going straight to university – have created additional opportunities for students who did not do so well at school, but still wanted to proceeed to higher education.