Ageing Australia faces student shortage

January 3, 2003

Universities and schools in some Australian states will soon run short of students because of the country's greying population. They will be forced to recruit even more foreigners to survive, according to researchers at the University of Tasmania.

Australia's ageing population is the result of a historically low birth rate that means the number of young people will plummet, according to researchers. This is despite Australia accepting more than 100,000 migrants every year.

In the three states most likely to be affected, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, the number of young people aged from six to 24 is predicted to fall by up to 60 per cent over the next four decades.

Other states and territories will also experience marked declines in numbers in the age groups that primary, secondary and tertiary institutions most rely on.

With increasing numbers of older Australians reaching retirement age, the drop in the number of school-leavers going to university will lead to greater competition between tertiary institutions and employers, the researchers say.

In a paper published by the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Tasmanian researchers Natalie Jackson and Britany Thompson argue that schools and post-secondary institutions will be significantly affected by the decline in student numbers.

"This may call into question the continued viability of some institutionsI and many hundreds or even thousands of down-line jobs," they write.

"It would take a substantial increase in age-specific participation ratios to maintain the university populations in these states at or near their current sizes."

In Tasmania, student numbers will decline markedly over the next ten years and although South Australia has a longer lead time the same trends will occur there. The decline in the 15-24 age cohort is reducing the supply of students and new entrants to the workforce just as the number of people approaching retirement is rising.

"Thus an increase in competition between employers and tertiary institutions for the participation of the young is also unfolding," the researchers say.

Although these changes will appear shocking to institutions accustomed to continual growth, there are positive aspects. Many young Australians become frustrated after finding that not even a graduate necessarily ends up in a job or with a good income. The future shortage of graduates should put a stop to that.

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