The Bradley enrolment target

The Bradley report’s target of 40% of 25-34 year olds having degrees by 2020 is leading to some big projections of what it would take to reach that proportion of graduates. Bob Birrell thinks it might need a 71% increase in the number of graduates compared to 2006, coming from a combination of demographic factors (there will be more 25-34 year olds) and a higher qualification share among them. This would be nearly 600,000 people. In The Australian this morning, Vin Massaro puts the number at 544,000.

Birrell is saying we need to build lots of new campuses, Massaro is worried about how much it would cost and how far academic standards would need to be lowered to take all these extra students.

I have to confess that the maths on this has made my head hurt. But it’s not clear to me that the numbers involved are going to be quite as high as Birrell and Massaro think. For a start, they are assuming a base of 29% in 2006. That was the number in the Bradley report. But being in the grip of the OECD cringe, under which Australian data is not real until it has been republished in Paris, the Bradley committee used out of date statistics. By 2008, the figure was already up to 32%. I suspect this is partly due to migration, since migration criteria favours graduates.

And if we look at census data and add together those currently enrolled in higher education and those already with a degree we are getting up to 37% or 38% for those in their mid-20s in 2006. There is a problem with these numbers, in that the census includes overseas students. On the other hand, many of them will migrate and the census typically under-records qualifications and enrolments, because of people who don’t answer questions or don’t answer them properly.

Even if we shave a few percentage points off the census number, it is highly likely that even on current enrolment trends the 25-34 year old group in ten years time will be significantly more qualified than its equivalent now.

The 40% target was, like so many numbers in the Bradley report, made without any proper analytical foundation. But on current enrolment and migration trends, with an added boost from the voucher scheme removing quantity constraints, I think we are likely to get close to 40% of 25-34 year olds with degrees by 2020.

4 thoughts on “The Bradley enrolment target

  1. All this stuff about new campuses in outer suburbia seems completely removed from the realities of what students want to me (hence it clearly isn’t a solution if we need more graduates). As far as I’m aware, there are no campuses in outer suburbia that are particularly prospering. Even ones with large catchment areas and reasonable populations like Western Sydney and VUT need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for students. It also appears name-brand doesn’t help a lot either. If you look at the far flung campuses of places like Monash, they are also into bottom fishing.


  2. The Report is so fundamentally confused that I suspect it’ll have no long term impact on Australian education. (On the other hand…).


  3. Birrell’s arguement about the need for lots of new campuses is undermind by the ABS data you linked to. This data shows that the share of 25 to 34 yo with a bachelor degree or higher rose from 19.3% in 1998 to 31.9% in 2008. If this trend continues in coming years, we will meet the Bradley target of 40% by 2015 ie 5 years early.

    Contra to Birrell’s assertion that we would need to see an increase in enrollments similar to the earlier decade of 1989 to 1998, it seems business as usual of the last decade will achieve the target.

    The real issue is likely to be a slowdown in skilled migration from the government induced global economic slowdown. Much of the growth in the share of 25 to 34 yo with a degree over the past decade has been driven by skilled migrants. Interestingly Birrell raises this issue but doesn’t seem to have done the hard yards of estimating the relative contributions of domestic graduates and skilled migrants. Of course these skilled migrants will not need lots of new campuses to obtain their degree and Birrell’s sector will not need lots of new money to teach them.


  4. ven ones with large catchment areas and reasonable populations like Western Sydney and VUT need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for students.

    Scraping the bottom of the barrel for students is going to become a lot more popular if they want to meet this 40% target.


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