In an article for yesterday’s Education Age, I had a go at explaining why the prospects of Victorian applicants for university are worse than those of applicants in other states.
The unmet demand statistics consistently show that it is higher in Victoria than elsewhere; using other data sources I found that this has been true since 1993 at least.
It will surprise none of my regular readers that the unmet demand culprit is the centralised system of distributing university places, which until fairly recently aimed at equalising higher education participation between the states, rather than meeting actual demand as revealed in applications to attend university. Though Victoria has not relative to its population been under-supplied with places compared to other states, because demand there is higher than the national average more of it is ‘unmet’.
But identifying the culprit still leaves a puzzle: why is demand higher in Victoria than elsewhere? The main reason seems to be that school retention is higher in Victoria than in other states. With a higher percentage of young people finishing Year 12 in Victoria than elsewhere, more people have the basic qualification needed for university entry.
A couple of people have asked me whether Victoria’s private schools might have something to do with the story. The ABS schools data suggest that indeed this could be the case.
Going back at least 40 years, Victoria has had more students attend private schools than is typical around Australia. I don’t know my school history well enough to explain why this is the case, but as private schools are more focused on university entry this would, all other things being equal, translate into higher demand for university places in Victoria.
But the 2006 schools data suggests that it is not just more private schools driving Victoria’s high university demand, it is their greater success in seeing their pupils through to the end of school. While Victorian government schools have Year 10 to 12 retention rates 3.6% above the national average for government schools, Victorian private schools are 6.3% above the national average for private schools.* A different non-government market share divide between the Catholic systemic schools and independent schools in Victoria is my first guess at why, but the recent ABS data does not let me check this hypothesis.
Either way, my Education Age article favours supply following demand rather than a central planner’s vision of what Australia should look like.
* These are ‘apparent’ retention rates, ie this would be Year 12 students in 2006 as a % of Year 10 students in 2004 in Victoria for each school system. It is possible that there is more drift to private schools for the last years of school in Victoria than elsewhere.