Female freshers take lead

July 18, 1997

AUSTRALIAN women university students not only outnumber their male counterparts but are also outperforming them easily, according to the latest research.

So seriously do the researchers take the issue that they have urged universities to investigate how they can attract more men on to campus and then give them greater assistance with their studies when they arrive.

In a report prepared for the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, the research team says that boosting male enrolments - and their performance - would both improve equity and bridge a forthcoming enrolment gap as a result of a fall in the 17 to 22 age group.

The study is the second inquiry into the relative performance of undergraduate commencing students. The first looked at how well first-year students did between 1993 and 1994, while the latest takes account of freshers in 1995.

The researchers, Ian Dobson from Monash University, Raj Sharma from Swinburne University and Anthony Haydon from the AVCC, used a student progress unit (SPU) to measure the ratio of output-to-input student load.

One SPU is produced by the successful completion of subjects weighted against one equivalent full-time student unit. The team found that in 1995, women comprised almost 56 per cent of new undergraduates and that the rate of increase in their numbers over the previous three years was 1.1 per cent higher than for males.

In comparing how the students performed, the research showed that women performed significantly better in universities in all states and territories.

Irrespective of sex, students from high socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds also significantly outperformed others.

The researchers say that given the former Labor government's aim of improving access to higher education by young Australians from low income families and the output-based funding of equity, this finding should concern institutions.

"Universities will need to develop strategies to improve the performance of low SES background students, as well as continuing to increase the numbers of low SES students gaining access to higher education," their report states.

The poor relative performance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in their first year at university is also a matter of considerable concern, the report says.

While their enrolments increased by 19 per cent over the three years, the SPU productivity of all indigenous students was 20 per cent below that of others.

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