Demand for university places has plateaued after three years of strong growth, suggesting key participation targets may prove to be unachievable.
Only 1400 more people applied for university this year than in 2012, an increase of just 0.6 per cent. Western Australia registered a drop in applications of 2.6 per cent while Tasmania heralded a 7.9 per cent increase in applications.
While nationally applications increased by just 0.6 per cent, school leaver applications increased by 2.2 per cent, up 3000 places on 2012.
And, while the government will trumpet a 1.9 per cent increase in financially disadvantaged students applying for university, it represents just 820 more applications than last year; besides, many of them are unlikely to get an offer due to a strong correlation between wealth and school performance.
“These figures show stagnation in demand,” said Trevor Gale, chair in education policy and social justice at Deakin University.
“The percentage increase in low socioeconomic status students applying for university is really by default and reflects a saturation in mid and high socioeconomic applications.”
In 2009, the government set two participation targets that are central to its higher education policy: that 40 per cent of young people should hold a degree by 2025, and the proportion of financially disadvantaged people with a degree should increase to 20 per cent by 2020, up from 16 per cent, where it had hovered for years.
To achieve these targets, the government funds a place for every student who “qualifies”. As a result, school leavers with Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks below 50 have flocked into some institutions and courses. Critics say this puts the quality of education at risk.
Professor Gale said that to meet the first target universities needed to enrol an additional 25,000 students each year to 2025. “Even if they offered a place to every single student who applied this year, they still wouldn’t make up the numbers.”
A spokewoman for tertiary education minister Chris Evans said the slowing in demand was to be expected.
“There has been record growth in the sector and naturally, university applications will begin to stabilise as existing demand is met following tremendous growth in the first years of the new demand driven system,” she said.
She also noted that there were almost 19,000 more students from low SES backgrounds enrolled in university than there were in 2007.
The data published by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education shows that rural and regional students are continuing to stay away from university.
While 21.5 per cent of applications were from regional and remote areas, this was well below the 27.9 per cent share of the population.
However, indigenous applications increased by a healthy 4.2 per cent — or 100 more applications than last year.Source: The Australian “Demand for university places plateaus”