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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Statistics and Research: Access and Participation

'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 20 per cent of the population, or approximately four 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. Within the 15-65 years age group, only 15 per cent of people with disability have a bachelor degree or higher, compared to 26 per cent for individuals without disability.2

Students with disability have a particularly low participation ratio of 0.48, with the participation ratio reflecting the share of places to estimate proportion of the population.3 Students with disability represented 5.2 per cent of all domestic undergraduates in 2012, the second consecutive year that enrolment topped 5 per cent.4  This is still below the national reference target of their population share of 8 per cent.5  Positively, there has been a growth in share of enrolment of 43.5 per cent since 2007 in numbers, with enrolments rising from 23,148 in 2007 to 33,220 in 2012.6  Participation in the VET sector increased by 30 per cent during 1996-2000, to 62,100 in 2000; however, proportionally, this represented a drop of 0.6 per cent during the period.7 The geographical dispersal of enrolment patterns is also noteworthy. Enrolment patterns on a state and territory basis show a very wide divergence, with Tasmania (8.7%) and South Australia (7.9% ) exceeding and approaching the national target of 8 per cent respectively, in contrast to Queensland, which has an enrolment rate of 4.1 per cent.8

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 and 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.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) is also a useful source of information for research and statistical data around disability and VET.


1 Dawkins 1990 as cited in Naylor, Baik & James 2013, p. 11

2,7  Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings 2012. Cat. no. 4430.0. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from

4,5,6,8 Koshy, P. 2014. Student Equity Performance in Australian Higher Education: 2007 to 2012. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from

3,4 Naylor, R., Baik, C., & James, R. 2013. Developing a Critical Interventions Framework for advancing equity in Australian higher education. Discussion paper prepared for the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. Accessed on 28 November 2014. Sourced from