Australia reveals huge 40-year expansion

October 6, 1995

Enrolments in Australian universities have jumped 20-fold from 31,000 students to 622,000 in 40 years.

This is one of the astonishing changes in a set of higher education "time series tables" recently released by the federal education department.

The gender ratio has shifted most. For more than 100 years, men outnumbered women on campus until 1987. Now there are some 40,000 more women than men.

Women now comprise the majority in four of the ten main disciplines: arts, education, health and veterinary science, with law soon to follow. They represent 13 per cent of engineering students.

A decade ago, twice as many males as females were studying for masters or PhD degrees. Last year, the ratio was down to less than a third more men than women.

The other big change has been in the age profile. The number of students aged 30 or more jumped from 77,700 in 1980 to 161,200 in 1994 so that this group is almost as numerous as those in their teens.

Since 1955, too, the proportion of full-time students has fallen below 60 per cent although part-timers have remained about 28 to 29 per cent. The ratio of external students to the total, however, has climbed from less than 10 per cent 40 years ago to 13 per cent.

Marked variations have also occurred among the states and territories. Institutions in New South Wales and Victoria still enrol most but Queensland has 16.5 per cent of the nation's university students compared with 12 per cent 20 years ago (more than tripling the actual number in that time).

The southern states' proportion has fallen because of population shifts north and west. The Northern Territory's share has risen from 0.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent.

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