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Higher Education Statistics

'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

At university, students with disability represented 7.7 per cent of all domestic undergraduates in 2019, up from 7.3 per cent the previous year. In fact there has been a growth in enrolment share of students with disability by 44.4 per cent over the last five years in comparison with general growth in the sector nationally (8.4 per cent) (Figure 1).3 Actual enrolments rose from 40,679 in 2014 to 58,739 in 2019.3 There is considerable variation observed across the states and territories, with participation ranging from 9.6% in Australian Capital Territory to 6.2% in Queensland in 2019, with rising levels of participation across all jurisdictions with the exception of Tasmania (Table 1).4

Figure 1: Growth in domestic undergraduate enrolments in higher education, 2014-2019 3

National enrolments 2015 3 %, 2016 5.2%, 2017 7.5%, 2018 8.3%, 2019 8.4%  Disability enrolments 2015 10.3%, 2016 17.9%, 2017 27.3%, 2018 36.6%, 2019 44.4%

 
Figure 1. data 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
National enrolments 706,278 727,786 743,030 759,151 764,652 765,594
Disability enrolments 40,679 44,856 47,970 51,773 55,565 58,739

Table 1: Participation rates (%) for all domestic students with disability by state and territory, 2014 - 2019 4

Table 1. 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
National 5.5 5.8 6.1 6.5 6.9 7.3

New South Wales

5.3 5.9 6.2 6.6 7.0 7.3
Victoria 5.2 5.6 6.0 6.5 7.0 7.5
Queensland 4.7 4.9 5.1 5.4 5.8 6.2
Western Australia 5.5 5.9 6.1 6.2 6.8 7.1
South Australia 7.5 8.1 8.6 8.7 8.9 9.2
Tasmania 8.7 7.6 7.5 7.3 7.2 7.2
Northern Territory 5.3 5.1 5.2 5.7 6.0 7.4
Australian Capital Territory 6.6 6.9 7.3 8.6 9.1 9.6

Success

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 2: Disability success ratios for domestic students in higher education by state, 2014-20194

Table 2. 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
National 0.94

0.93

0.94 0.93 0.94 0.94

New South Wales

0.93 0.92 0.93 0.93 0.93 0.93
Victoria 0.95 0.94 0.94 0.94 0.95 0.95
Queensland 0.92 0.91 0.92 0.92 0.93 0.93
Western Australia 0.95 0.94 0.94 0.91 0.93 0.91
South Australia 0.92 0.92 0.93 0.94 0.94 0.93
Tasmania 0.90 0.92 0.92 0.94 0.92 0.91
Northern Territory 0.82 0.84 0.87 0.83 0.82 0.84
Australian Capital Territory 0.95 0.94 0.94 0.95 0.94 0.94

Disability success ratios are below parity (1.00) across the country meaning 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

Retention

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, 2013-2018 4

Table 3. 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
National 0.96 0.96 0.96 0.96 0.96 0.97

New South Wales

0.96 0.95 0.95 0.95 0.95 0.96
Victoria 0.97 0.98 0.96 0.97 0.96 0.97
Queensland 0.94 0.94 0.94 0.95 0.95 0.96
Western Australia 0.96 0.96 0.96 0.95 0.93 0.94
South Australia

0.96

0.96 0.97 0.96 0.99 1.01
Tasmania 1.08 1.07 1.16 1.10 1.08 1.03
Northern Territory 0.93 0.87 0.94 0.95 0.90 0.95
Australian Capital Territory 0.98 0.98 0.96 0.97 0.97 0.96

The national disability retention ratio has held steady at 0.96 for the past seven years.  A retention ratio of 0.96 suggests that students with disability have only slightly lower retention rates than students without disability. Interestingly in 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

The Student Experience

The Student Experience Survey (SES), originally known as the University Experience Survey (UES), 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, 2019-2020 (% positive rating)

Table 4. Skills development Learner engagement Teaching quality Student support Learning resources Quality of entire experience
2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020
Disability reported 78 75 56 39 79 76 75 73 81 73 76 66
No disability 82 78 60 45 81 78 74 74 84 76 79 69

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

Graduate Outcomes

The 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) measures the destinations and satisfaction of recent higher education graduates.

Table 5: Undergraduate employment outcomes for students with disability and their peers, 2019-2020 (%)

Table 5. 2019 2020
 

Employed
Full-time

Total
employed
Labour force
participation
Employed
Full-time
Total
employed
Labour force
participation
Disability reported 67 81 88 59 79 88
No disability 73 87 93 69 86 92

In 2020, undergraduates with a reported disability had a full-time employment rate of 59 per cent, which was 10 percentage points lower than the 69 per cent for undergraduates who reported no disability.  This is a decline on the 2019 figures as the gap in full-time employment of students with disability and their peers was 6 percentage points.7

Again the decrease in employment rates seen between 2019 and 2020 for all students may be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting industry shutdowns.

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.

(Information updated May 2021)

Related Resources

    References

    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. Accessed on 14 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/2018

    3 Koshy, P, 2020. Student Equity Participation in Higher Education: 2014-2019. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University.  Accessed on 14 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/publications/ncsehe-briefing-note-equity-student-participation-australian-higher-education-2014-2019

    4 Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2019 Student Data, Section 11 – Equity Groups, Section 16 – Equity Performance Data.  Accessed on 14 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.dese.gov.au/higher-education-statistics/student-data/selected-higher-education-statistics-2019-student-data

    5 QILT 2021. 2020 Student Experience Survey: National Report. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Accessed on 29 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/student-experience

    6 QILT 2021. 2020 SES National Report Tables. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Accessed on 29 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/student-experience

    7 QILT 2021. 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey: National Report. The Social Research Centre, Victoria. Accessed on 29 April 2021. Sourced from https://www.qilt.edu.au/qilt-surveys/graduate-employment