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You are reading: Mapping Australian higher education, 2014-15

Written by Andrew Norton and Ittima Cherastidtham, Grattan Institute


For people new to higher education and higher education policy, the field can seem bewildering. Basic facts are surprisingly difficult to find and interpret. Funding entitlements reflect the sector’s history more than consistent policy principles. Proposed radical changes to higher education policy add to the complexity.

Mapping Australian higher education, 2014-15, the third report in an annual series, puts key facts and their context in one place.

Australia has 40 full universities, and around 130 other higher education providers. Their revenues in 2012 exceeded $26 billion, making higher education a significant industry. Enrolments are growing strongly. In 2014, domestic enrolments should exceed 1 million for the first time. International enrolments are recovering from a downturn, with China the single largest source of students.

Online enrolments have grown rapidly in recent years, but the distinctions between online and on-campus are blurring. Almost all students use online technologies, while some universities have established study centres for their off-campus students.

The higher education workforce is increasing, with more than 50,000 people holding academic jobs. They are supported by a larger number of casually-employed tutors and lecturers.

As well as teaching more students, Australian academics have increased their research output, particularly through journal articles. Student satisfaction with teaching is slowly but steadily increasing, but subject pass rates are declining. As entry requirements are eased, more students struggle academically.

Recent graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find full-time work. Despite slower transitions from university to career, graduates still earn significantly more than people finishing their education at Year 12.

This report includes new research showing that graduates of sandstone universities and of technology universities earn about six per cent more than graduates of other universities over a 40-year career.

Yet field of study is a greater driver of income differences among graduates than is university attended. For example, a graduate who chose engineering at any university over science is likely to earn more than a graduate who chose science at a sandstone university.

Although Australian universities have increased their private income since the 1980s, they still rely on government. About 60 per cent of their cash flow is government grants or loans.

The single largest government higher education program pays tuition subsidies for students. It will cost taxpayers $6.4 billion in 2014. Subsidies to the student loan scheme, HELP, are also going up.

The Government plans to bring students at non-university higher education providers into the public funding system, to remove regulations setting maximum fees, and to charge real interest on student debt. If passed, these changes will have big implications for higher education providers and their students.

Read more: Grattan Institute Mapping Australian Higher Education 2014-15 (1.56Mb)

Norton, A., & Cherastidtham, I., (2014) Mapping Australian higher education, 2014-15, Grattan Institute.
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