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OECD cringe, under which Australian data is not real until it has been republished in Paris, the Bradley committee used out of date statistics.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.