Students who were born in Asia are winning places in New South Wales universities at up to three times the rate of their Australian or European-born counterparts, possibly because their parents place a much higher value on study.
A survey of more than 2,600 senior high-school students in NSW by researchers at Macquarie University has revealed marked differences in attitudes to education among those who migrated here with their parents.
Most overseas-born students enrol in university at a much higher rate per population than do the Australian born. South Asian-born have the highest level of participation and New Zealand-born the lowest, they say.
Many of the groups with high participation rates also enjoy high socio-economic status in Australia, with the notable exception of Vietnamese-born.
Researchers Nick Parr and Magdalena Mok say the high enrolment rate among Hong Kong-born and, to a lesser degree, Malaysian students may reflect limited university opportunities in their home countries.
The survey asked students what they intended doing after school and the importance their parents placed on a university education. The four groups with the highest proportions intending to go to university were all from Asia.
Of the 18 countries or regions represented among the students, only those from New Zealand, South America and Britain had lower university aspirations than Australians. Whereas 90 per cent of Hong Kong-born students were aiming to go on to higher education, fewer than half the Australians were.
Parents who rated a university education most highly included those from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam, the South Pacific, North America and the Middle East. Only New Zealand parents thought higher education was less important than Australians.
Groups in which parents place a high importance on their offspring going to university tend to have high participation rates in higher education, the researchers say. But as the time they spend in Australia increases, the attitudes of students from English-speaking countries and those from western Europe tend to converge with those of the Australian born.
The researchers discovered that parents generally rated the importance of a university education more highly for their daughters than their sons - especially among Australian-born families. Only parents from Hong Kong and the Middle East thought it was more important for boys.
The results emphasise again the achievements of young women attending university today where they outnumber and generally outperform males. That they are now being given more encouragement than their male siblings to go on to higher education is a measure of the fundamental changes in parental attitudes towards women's role in Australian society.