Do Australians move to study?

One characteristic of Australians is that in general they don’t like moving. In the UK hardly anyone studies in their hometown, they go somewhere else (as long as they can afford it). In the US the same thing happens, people who can afford college often go somewhere interstate or at least in a different city.

commenter ‘M’ during the week.

Overall, Australians do move quite frequently. According to the census, nearly 40% had moved in the previous five years. According a recent ABS publication, half of Victorian 18-34 year olds have moved in the previous three years.

So is it true that Australians don’t move to study? Comparing enrolment figures for 18 and 19 year olds with census data on the same age groups of students living with their parents it suggests that 42% of teenage students are not living at home. Many of these moves are likely to be lifecycle or lifestyle moves, rather than moving to study at a particular university. But the overall figure is higher than the Australians-stay-at-home-to-study thesis would suggest.

DEST commencing student data suggests that those moving interstate might also be more numerous than commonly thought. Accross the country, 11% of 2007 commencing students were enrolled outside their state of permanent home residence (a trend too; it was 9% in 1997).

This is much lower than in the United States, where overall about 25% of students are enrolled out of their home state. However the rate varies significantly between states. In big states like California with lots of local options and long distances to other good options, 17% of freshmen are enrolled interstate. In smaller northeastern states like Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont, with lots of good options in nearby states, more than half move to study.

In Australia, both the Northern Territory and Canberra show high rates – above 30% – of people moving to study. A combination of limited local options (particularly in the NT) and the itinerant nature of the population in those jurisdictions probably helps explain this (ie, while parents are working and living in the ACT or NT, they are likely to be from somewhere else and still have family and friends in other places).

Given the high overall moving rates of Australians, I doubt there is any cultural barrier to moving to study. The lower rates than in the US are probably due to two main factors. The first is two aspects of geography: quite a few US universities are in smallish towns which must import students, while most Australian universities are in major cities with large local markets; and there are long distances between major Australian cities, making it more expensive to move and harder to go back home on a regular basis.

The second factor is that US higher education is far more diverse than Australian higher education. They’ve always had a large private higher education sector, and the public universities are genuinely state-based, without the homogenising influence of federal policy. So it is more likely that students find a real reason to move in the US than here, that a university outside their home town actually is a better fit with what they are looking for than the local options. If Australian higher education continues to diversify, we may observe more moving to study. But this is a process that would take a long period of time even under more favourable policy conditions than exist today.

6 thoughts on “Do Australians move to study?

  1. “If Australian higher education continues to diversify, we may observe more moving to study”
    Whilst that might be true, it will no doubt only be from big city to big city given that the regional universities are in fairly dire straights already. In addition, although I don’t think the current changes will have much overall affect in general, I would suspect that the biggest losers will be the regional universities (assuming the regional universities don’t move to the cities and become regional universities in name only), especially if the lower status city universities use the changes as an opportunity to scrape the bottom of the barrel more.


  2. Andrew thanks for looking into this. Interesting result, I’m actually surprised that the Move Interstate figure of 11% is so high (I suspect a reasonable fraction are moving to ANU/ADFA).

    I think the diversity point is important. The Group of 8 Uni’s each cover a broad range of areas to a decent standard. There are very few subject areas where there is a clear stand-out nationally (as compared to say MIT/Caltech for Engineering/Physical Sciences).

    I also think that culturally moving away from home for College/Uni is a big rite of passage in the US/UK.

    Often the best country to compare ourselves to is Canada. What is the diversity like in the Uni system there?? I know UBC is highly regarded.


  3. M – ACT does have the highest proportion of imported students, at 38%. However these are only 10% of the nation’s interstate student movers, and two-thirds of the ACT’s interstate enrolments come from NSW. My guess is that a significant number come from surrounding rural NSW, and that ANU and U of C are their closest unis. ADFA is one of the few genuinely national higher ed institutions, but without only about 1000 students overall its commencing student intake is only going to be a few hundred a year out of nearly 30,000 movers.

    I don’t know the Canadian higher ed statistics so I can’t quickly answer your question on that one.


  4. “I doubt there is any cultural barrier to moving to study. But there are plenty of economic ones!”

    I did not discuss income support issues, because while people complain about YA here, the US has no national income support scheme for students. However, there is a complex array of scholarships that may facilitate student mobility, particularly among the relatively bright students most likely to receive them.


  5. I would have thought that the cultural difference is that in the US it is middle class aspiration to “help send your kids to college”. A form of social status is to be able to afford to help you kids go to a good college (like private schooling here I think).

    California at 17% moving interstate doesn’t include the long distances with-in state they are likely to move. e.g. LA -> San Fran.

    Also my original comment on moving really should have been more specific. The number from the post you linked to of roughly 5% of people moving interstate in the last 5 years I think aligns with what I was thinking.


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