Mapping Australian higher education 2012

by Andrew Norton


Australia’s higher education system is entering one of its most significant periods in recent history. To meet a government goal of 40% of young Australian adults holding a bachelor’s degree or above by 2025, restrictions on undergraduate student numbers have been lifted: public universities can now offer as many or as few places as they choose in almost any course.

Yet despite the system’s importance to Australia’s economy and society, it is often hard to know what is going on inside it. Mapping Australian higher education, the first report from Grattan Institute’s Higher Education program, puts in one place facts, figures and analysis relevant to understanding institutions, students, and outcomes.

Overall, the report suggests that Australia’s higher education system is performing reasonably well or has positive trends.

Despite a long-term increase in the number of graduates, most continue to get good jobs at pay rates that are significantly above what other workers receive. Australian universities have improved their position in global rankings in recent years, and student satisfaction with teaching has increased since the 1990s.

Yet the report also notes weaknesses, vulnerabilities and anomalies. Australian higher education students are much less engaged with academic staff than their American counterparts. An international survey shows that Australian academics have the fourth lowest preference for teaching of the 18 countries surveyed.

In some occupations an under-supply of graduates contributes to skills shortages. And the cost and complexity of the HELP loan scheme continues to increase, raising questions of whether its policy objectives could be achieved in a simpler, cheaper way.

Some of these policy issues will be explored in subsequent Grattan Institute research. The higher education program is supported by The Myer Foundation.