The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Briefing Note: Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2012 to 2017

Briefing Note written by Paul Koshy, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE).


This NCSEHE briefing note reports on domestic undergraduate equity student participation in Australian higher education from 2012 to 2017. It focuses on trends among domestic undergraduate enrolments in Table A provider institutions in identified equity groups:

    • Low socioeconomic status (low SES) students
    • Students with Disability
    • Indigenous students
    • Women in Non-Traditional Areas (WINTA)
  • Regional
  • students
  • Remote students
  • Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) students, also referred to as ‘Culturally and Linguistically Diverse’ (CALD) students.

All student data reported or derived for the purposes of this document are sourced from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training (DET).

Changes in Reporting

This briefing note uses 2012 as a base year of comparison for higher education equity student participation. As in previous years it reports data for domestic undergraduates only, but it now reports for both Table A Providers (major public universities) and Table B Providers (four private institutions), with system totals (‘National’) applying across both groups.

The definitions for equity groups reported on Page 6 have remained static in recent years for Students with Disability, Indigenous students, WINTA students and NESB students.

Over the past decade, the measures for low SES, regional and remote students – the so-called area measures – have changed due to shifts in the area of focus from postcodes to the Statistical Area 1 (SA1) (all three groups); change in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census base (2011 to 2016) (all three) and changes in regional status from the transition to the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) after the 2011 Census (regional and remote students). Please see Koshy (2017) for a description of how these changes affected estimates for these equity groups in previous comparisons.

The reported figures for low SES, regional and remote students are adjusted in view of new census data – the 2011 census for 2012 to 2015 data and the 2016 census for 2016 and 2017. As a result, there is a break in the reporting series for these measures, for instance, the estimate of low SES student headcount in 2015 (2011 census areas) was 115,840 compared to that for 2016 (2016 census areas) of 126,213, representing growth of 8.95% in one year. This is partly an artefact of structural changes in census area definitions due to factors such as the cessation of the resources boom in Western Australia.

In addition, in keeping with the last version of this briefing note (Koshy, 2017), this report also reports on alternative measures for the area equity groups developed in Cardak et al. (2017). These are measures of a student’s area equity status on the basis of their first address (address at time of enrolment) as opposed to the standard measure—reported here—of their current address (address during current year of study). The first address measure provides a better indication of student background over the course of their university career and also eliminates the attrition in equity status count due to students moving to other areas and consequently changing their locational status (e.g. low SES students to high SES areas; regional and remote students to metropolitan areas).

Institutional Groupings

For each equity group measure, results are reported for the national system (‘National’; ‘Table A Providers’; and ‘Table B Providers’), and by institutional groupings. Totals by state and territory (Table A and B Providers combined) are reported for each year.

Results for the Table A providers are reported collectively, with these universities also being classed into the following the institutional groupings on the basis of membership as at 2017-2018. These are as follows:

  • The Group of Eight: Australian National University (ANU); The University of Melbourne; Monash University; The University of Sydney; University of New South Wales (UNSW); The University of Queensland (UQ); The University of Western Australia (UWA); and The University of Adelaide.
  • The Australian Technology Network (ATN): Curtin University; University of Technology Sydney (UTS); RMIT University (RMIT); Queensland University of Technology (QUT)*; and University of South Australia (UniSA).
  • The Innovative Research Universities (IRU): Murdoch University; Flinders University; Griffith University; James Cook University (JCU); La Trobe University; Charles Darwin University (CDU); and Western Sydney University (WSU)*.
  • Regional Universities Network (RUN): Southern Cross University; University of New England (UNE); Federation University; University of the Sunshine Coast (USC); CQUniversity (CQU); and University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
  • The Unaligned Universities: (Other Table A providers) —Macquarie University; University of Newcastle*; University of Wollongong; Deakin University; Charles Sturt University (CSU); University of Tasmania (UTAS); Australian Catholic University (ACU); University of Canberra; Edith Cowan University (ECU); Swinburne University; and Victoria University.

* Universities are included in institutional groupings on a consistent basis (2012 to 2017), and as a result of actual or prospective membership in 2017–2018. Two universities left or joined groupings in the last 18 months: WSU joined the IRU in October 2017 and QUT left the ATN in October 2018. Both universities are included in their respective groupings across all years of analysis. Newcastle left the IRU in 2015 and is excluded from IRU aggregate calculation throughout. QUT will be removed from the ATN in future briefing notes.

In addition, the briefing note reports on results for the Table B providers collectively, comprising:

  • Table B Providers: Bond University (Queensland); The University of Notre Dame Australia (Western Australia); University of Divinity (Victoria); and Torrens University Australia (South Australia).

Read the full Briefing Note: Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2012 to 2017.

Accessible PDF. 

Koshy, Paul. 2018. Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2012 to 2017. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University.
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