HECS deters theory fails to predict, again

…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.

– my prediction of 17 July.

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.

6 thoughts on “HECS deters theory fails to predict, again

  1. “and an under-analysed downward trend in high-ENTER students going straight to university”

    I think this statement is ambiguous (or incorrect) — do you mean high in the high sense, or high as in got into university without being under the cut-offs? If you mean high in the high sense, I doubt that is correct, since most of those with high scores go to a rather small number of universities, but those with low scores go wherever they can get in, which generally is not where those with high scores go (excluding UWA and the ANU, which collect a broader distribution of students than MU, USyd etc.). Thus, it’s average students not going to universities which allows low performing students to get in, not high scoring students not going.


  2. Conrad – I am getting my data from table 8 here.

    If we take Year 12 students in the previous year as the base, the proportion of students with an ENTER of 90.05+ accepting a university place in the following year has dropped from 83% in 2004 to 69% this year. The consequence is that while in 2004 they made up 32% of all acceptances, that was down to 27% for 2008. Below 70 acceptances have gone from 16% to 26%.

    No, of course this does not mean the below-70s are going to U of M or U of S. If there is something major going on here, it would mean a slight ratcheting up, with slight drops in entry requirements at the top universities letting different people in, who create vacancies in the next tier, and so on until those who would otherwise have missed out entirely get a place at bottom-tier institutions.

    However, I did stress ‘under-analysed’ – the drop for 90+ students between 2007 and 2008 is so large that the possibility of a statistical error should be investigated, and this is only an analysis of people going straight from school to uni. If it is mainly delayed university entry, the overall 90+ numbers averaged over time would be much higher.


  3. I agree that it might well be a statistical error (in fact I’d even bet on it). My guess is that a big factor for the larger number of low ENTER guys getting in is in part due to the way course demand is getting more polarized, rather than specific groups dropping out. Most universities now have many courses that don’t have enough students to fill them, so they essentially let anyone in (at a guess, that includes most science, arts, and education subjects at all but the elite universities). At present I think only the Catholic University and UWA have admitted they do this, but it’s widespread.


  4. Conrad – I think the broad trend is believable, because there is other data consistent with it: the increasing rate of deferral that I have checked against VTAC data in the past, the census data showing later entry by teenagers from high-income families, and the ‘independence’ YA statistics. Whether the big change 07-08 is correct or not it is hard to say without further analysis.


  5. I am yet to see any data, but I would be interested to examine the trends for university enrolments from non-metropolitan students. It will also be interesting to note the Legislative Council inquiry into this very issue, whenever that concludes.


  6. N – The data is in the same ‘appendices’ file linked to above. The new category of ‘provincial’ is up in absolute terms, but down by 0.05% as a share of all domestic commencing enrolments.


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