Low socio-economic status people and their impact on university participation, choice of university and choice of course in Australia
There seem to be persistent inequalities in Australian higher education participation. Over the last two decades the participation numbers for low socio-economic status group have only slightly improved despite improvements in access (Centre for the Study of Higher Education, 2008, p. 15). After the Bradley report which was written following the review of higher education system in 2008, the Australian government has introduced many policies and financial assistance for this demographic in hope of increasing the participation rates to 20 per cent by 2020 (Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations, 2008, p. xiv). However, despite steady increases in overall tertiary participation, the inequalities still remain. People with low socio-economic status are not as successful in applying or gaining access to more prestigious institutions as those with medium or high socio-economic status are (James, 2007, p. 6). It is not only participation at university level that is affected with this imbalance. Significant social differences can be seen across different universities as well as different fields of study (Reay et al. 2001, p. 858). Study by Ferguson and Simpson (2011) has found, and James (2007) agrees, that students with low socio-economic background are not so successful in gaining entry into the courses with more competitive entry requirements like medicine, law or architecture. These students were more concentrated in courses such as education, nursing, IT and business (James, 2007, p. 7). James (2007, p. 7) believes that the same is true for the high demand universities, where low socio-economic status students hold a share of only 11 per cent of all places. These differences can be somewhat accredited to the geographical location of these more prestigious universities as they are mainly situated in the metropolitan areas. However, there are other factors that contribute to this imbalance more so. Some experts believe that students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may not aspire to attend these universities believing that it is not an achievable goal, or they may not perform academically well enough for more competitive courses. Other studies indicate that it is in fact the psychological factors which create socioeconomic imbalances in higher education participation. This paper will look at rates of participation, aspirations, ability and psychological factors and their affect on the decision making process of low socio-economic status students when it comes to higher education. It will argue that there is enough supporting evidence to conclude that this demographic does not have a lot of impact on university participation, choice of university or choice of course.
While overall higher education participation rates have improved, socio-economically disadvantaged people are least represented group in Australian higher education. James (2007, p. 2) states that ‘social class is the single most reliable predictor of the likelihood that individuals will participate in higher education at some stage in their lives’. Undergraduate Applications, Offers and Acceptances Report from the Department of Education, Employment and Work Relations, states that in 2011, 18.6 per cent of all applicants were from low socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 30.6 per cent of applicants from high socio-economic group (DEEWR, 2011, p. 15). It also reports that even though applications by low socio-economic status applicants were up by 3.4 per cent they were less likely to result in an offer. Low socio-economic status applicants had an offer rate of 79.4 per cent compared to 83.5 per cent for applications from high socio-economic status applicants (DEEWR, 2011, p. 15). Even though the rates for applications and offers to higher education for low socio-economic demographic have slightly...
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