Student applications rise for midyear and 2021

Early figures in Australia suggest the pandemic may be whetting rather than dampening appetite for study

April 3, 2020
University application form
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Enforced idleness may have spurred Australians’ interest in university study, with early signs of a spike in second-term enrolments.

Southern Cross University (SCU) says applications for its mid-year undergraduate intake are more than 10 per cent higher than at the same point last year, three months ahead of the start of second trimester classes.

SCU has also seen a surge of interest in its online postgraduate offerings, designed for professionals seeking short, intensive courses. Paul Robinson, SCU’s head of student management, said the university was on track for a 40 per cent increase in its April and June intakes.

“A lot of people working from home are rethinking their life and career objectives,” he said.

Economic downturns typically coincide with increased demand for tertiary education, as people with time on their hands seek productive outlets for it. But with campuses now closed for most classes, analysts fear the economically driven incentives to study could be negated by students’ aversion to remote learning.

The uncertainty around this year’s enrolments has intensified as universities deferred their census dates - the point at which students start incurring debt - to give them more time to try out the new modes of learning.

But Mr Robinson said SCU, which has already passed its census date, had fielded relatively few enquiries about withdrawals and fee remissions.

He said that in typical years, many students dropped a subject or two before the census date after realising they had taken on more study than they could manage. That did not appear to be happening so much this year.

Mr Robinson said undergraduate study at SCU was currently up about 4 per cent compared to last year, because more people had enrolled in the first place and fewer had subsequently abandoned subjects or courses.

And while school leavers tended to avoid mid-year starts to their studies, he expected many to buck that trend this year because the coronavirus had thwarted their gap year plans. “Throw a fire, a drought and a pandemic into the mix, and people are still wanting to educate themselves.”

Across the border, the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre said the number of mature-aged applicants for semester two study was 3 per cent higher than at the same juncture last year. The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) in Sydney also reported a slight rise in semester two applications, although both centres said admissions had not been underway for long enough to show clear trends.

But the UAC reported a marked spike in interest for study next year, after opening the 2021 admissions round on 1 April. Some 3,300 applications were lodged in the first two days - more than double the figure from the same period last year - driven by a near tripling of applications from current school students.

Kim Paino, UAC’s general manager of marketing and engagement, said she was “thrilled” with the increase given recent calls to cancel senior school exams and the issuing of university admissions ranks.

“We’re really hoping these numbers are an early indication that Year 12 students are undeterred by the uncertainty around them,” she said. “That’s tremendous news for those of us working hard in the background to make sure that they can still achieve their goals.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

66% of Southern Cross University's students are external or multi modal; demand for 'internal' study may be different. Table 2.7: All students by State, higher education institution, mode of attendance, type of attendance and gender, full year 2018. Department of Education (2019) Selected higher education statistics – 2018 student data.

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