Current Higher Education Data Analysis
The overall objective for equity in higher education is to ensure that Australians from all groups in society have the opportunity to participate successfully in higher education. This will be achieved by changing the balance of the student population to reflect more closely the composition of the society as a whole.1
Disability is a normal part of the human experience, with some form of disability affecting 17.7 per cent of the population, or approximately 4.4 million people in Australia. Yet students with disability continue to be disadvantaged in terms of their access to and participation in higher education in Australia. Of persons aged 15-64, only 18.4 per cent of people with disability have a bachelor degree or higher, compared to 32.8 per cent for individuals without disability. People with disability are more likely to have attained a Certificate level qualification (27.1 per cent) than those without disability (20.6 per cent).2
The analysis below includes:
- Student Experience surveys
- Graduate Outcomes (2022 QILT data has now been released)
At university, students with disability represented 7.4 4per cent of all domestic undergraduates in 2020, up from 7.21 per cent the previous year. Thas been a growth in enrolment share of students with disability over the last five years in comparison with general growth in the sector nationally (Table 1).3 Actual enrolments rose from 63,717 in 2015 to 83,686 in 2020.3 There is considerable variation observed across the states and territories, with participation ranging from 9.6% in South Australian to 6.2% in Queensland in 2019, with rising levels of participation across all jurisdictions with the exception of Tasmania (Table 2).4
Table 1: Growth in domestic undergraduate enrolments in higher education, 2014-2020 3
|Total domestic enrolments||1,013,831||1,035,474||1,055,274||1,071,448||1,071,980||1,076,790||1,124,453|
|People with Disability enrolments||55,605||60,019||63,717||68,541||73,235||77,633||83,686|
|People with disability as a % of total enrolments||5.48%||5.80%||6.04%||6.40%||6.83%||7.21%||7.44%|
Table 2: Participation rates (%) for all domestic students with disability by state and territory, 2014 - 2019 4
New South Wales
|Australian Capital Territory||6.6||6.9||7.3||8.6||9.1||9.6
Student retention rates measure the proportion of students who continue their studies from the previous year. As with success, a retention ratio is created for students with disability to compare their performance with other students.4
Table 3: Disability retention ratios for domestic students in higher education by state, 2015-2019 4
New South Wales
|Australian Capital Territory||0.96||0.97||0.97||0.96||0.96|
The national disability retention ratio has held steady at 0.96 for the past five years. A retention ratio of 0.96 suggests that students with disability have only slightly lower retention rates than students without disability. Interestingly in South Australia and Tasmania, the retention rates of students with disability are consistently higher than students without a reported disability as demonstrated by retention ratios greater than 1.00.4
Student success rates measure academic performance by determining the number of units passed out of all units attempted.3 For students with disability, the success rate is divided by the success rate of students without disability to create a success ratio. If the success ratio equals 1.00 or greater it means that students with disability are performing as well as or better than their peers (without a reported disability).
Table 3: Disability success ratios for domestic students in higher education by state, 2014-20204
New South Wales
|Australian Capital Territory||0.95||0.94||0.94||0.95||0.94||0.94||0.95|
Disability success ratios are below parity (1.00) across the country mean that students with disability are less successful than students without disability. There is some variability by state however the success of students with disability is generally between 5 and 10 per cent lower than students without any reported disability.4
Student Experience Survey
The Student Experience Survey (SES) administered through the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) agency was created to provide a national framework for collecting feedback on the higher education student experience. The SES focuses on aspects of the student experience that are measurable, linked with learning and development outcomes, and potentially able to be influenced by institutions. Focus areas in the SES comprise related items representing feedback from students about their higher education experience, regarding outcomes, behaviours and satisfaction:
- Skills development
- Learner engagement
- Teaching quality
- Student support
- Learning resources
- Overall quality of educational experience
Table 4: The undergraduate student experience for students with disability and their peers, 2020-2021 (% positive rating)
|Skills development||Learner engagement||Teaching quality||Student support||Learning resources||Quality of entire experience|
Students who reported having a disability were less likely to provide positive ratings than students who did not report any disability, with ratings between 1 and 6 percentage points lower across scales. Satisfaction with the student support scale has the smallest gap while the largest gap is for the learner engagement scale. The quality of their entire educational experience was 3 percentage points lower for students who reported having a disability. The large decrease in overall satisfaction between 2019 and 2020 for students with disability and without may be attributed to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic where on campus study very quickly transitioned to online study.5
In addition to the items asking students to rate different aspects of their educational experience, students were also asked to indicate whether they had seriously considered leaving their institution during the year. In 2020, students who reported having a disability were more likely to have considered leaving their institution (27%) than students who did not report having a disability (19%). 6
The 2022 Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) has now been released. The information below has been revised as at February 15, 2023.
The GOS is administered by QILT and measures the destinations and satisfaction of recent higher education graduates.
Table 5: Undergraduate employment outcomes for students with disability and their peers, 2020-2022 (%)
In 2020, undergraduates with a reported disability had a full-time employment rate of 59.2%, which was 10% lower than the 69.4% for undergraduates who reported no disability. This gap has essentially continued with small increases in 2021 and 2022. Currently people with disability employment full-time is 68.4% compared with those without disability which is 79.5%. This is a gap of 11.1%.
Overall employment gaps continuing to be concerning, with gaps opening up between people with disability and those with no disability. QILT does not provide any analysis as to the changes between years and why graduate with disability continue to lower rates of success. Issues such as funding to support students with disability and their transition to employment, COVID-19 and current labour market machinations continue to impact the graduate outcomes of people with disability.
Overall employment is defined by QILT as 'employed graduates (including in full-time, part-time or casual employment), as a proportion of those available for employment'. This is the preferred measurement to take into account graduates who are seeking work regardless of the number of hours.
Labour force participation over time continues to be lower for people with disability. The gap for students with disability vs those without disability has been 4.3% (2020), 8.2% (20201) and 3.9% (2022). Institutions need to consider how to close this gap and consider how to prepare people with disability for graduate employment especially in such a changeable labour market.
In 2022 the median salary for employed full-time undergraduates with disability is $66,000 vs those without disability $68,000.
The decrease in employment rates seen between 2021 and 2022 for all students may be attributed to lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic as industries adapt to new ways of working and where skill shortages are acute across many sectors.
As an identified disadvantaged equity group, there has been ongoing focus on increasing the access, participation and success of students with disability in post-secondary education. Internationally, it also continues to be an area of research and focus. As well as the ADCET website, the Australian Government Department of Education funds the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), whose purpose is to inform public policy design and implementation, and institutional practice, in order to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people.
1 Dawkins 1990 as cited in Naylor, Baik & James 2013, p. 11
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings 2018. Sourced from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/2018
3 Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2020 Student Data, Section 11 – Equity Groups, Section 16 – Equity Performance Data. https://www.education.gov.au/higher-education-statistics/resources/2020-section-11-equity-groups
4 Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2020 Student Data, Section 16– Equity Groups, Section 16 – Equity Performance Data. https://www.education.gov.au/higher-education-statistics/resources/2020-section-16-equity-performance-data
5 QILT 2021. Student Experience Survey: National Report. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/student-experience
6 QILT 2021. SES National Report Tables. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/student-experience
7 QILT 2022. Graduate Outcomes Survey: National Report. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/graduate-employment
Updated February 2023