Australia: outreach cuts blamed as demand plunges

Applications and offers tumble for the first time this decade

十月 28, 2018
university applications

Australians’ appetite for undergraduate study has crashed this year, new education department figures show.

The number of applications for undergraduate study, and the number of offers stemming from those applications, both fell for the first time since the department started tallying these figures in 2010.

The data, outlined in the Undergraduate Applications, Offers and Acceptances 2018 report, are the latest evidence that demand for higher education had already stalled before the government controversially capped teaching grants last December.

Representative group Universities Australia blamed cuts to outreach programmes, pointing out that the slide in applications was fastest among disadvantaged groups.

Chief executive Catriona Jackson said that the reduced demand from equity groups was a “sad reversal of good progress made in previous years”.

“Specifically, cuts that have been made in past years to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program – which funds support programmes for those who might be first in their family to attend university – seem to be biting this year,” Ms Jackson said.

The plunging enthusiasm was most pronounced among Indigenous Australians, with applications from this group falling by 5.2 per cent compared with a 4.1 per cent decline generally.

Ms Jackson said this was a “setback” after a decade of consistent growth in Indigenous applications. “We all need to put our shoulders to the wheel to close the gap in university education and transform lives through opportunity,” she said.

Indigenous Australians accounted for just 2.1 per cent of university applicants this year, well below their 2.7 per cent share of the working age population.

The report shows that Australians who secured offers of university places were less inclined to accept them, compared with last year. The 3.3 per cent decline in acceptances was steeper than the 2.4 per cent fall in the number of offers.

And while would-be students have been bypassing the country’s five tertiary admissions centres for years, with increasing proportions applying directly to universities, the number of direct applications fell by 1.5 per cent this year – the first such drop since the data have been collected.

Applications through the tertiary admissions centres fell by a steeper 5.5 per cent.

Enrolment figures for the first half of 2017, which were published earlier this month, also reveal lukewarm domestic demand for higher education.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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