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You are reading: Student Preferences for Bachelor Degrees at TAFE: The socio-spatial influence of schools

Written by Trevor Gale, Stephen Parker, Tebeje Molla, and Kim Findlay, with Tim Sealey

This report on Student Preferences for Bachelor Degrees at TAFE (Technical and Further Education) institutions is derived from research commissioned by Australia’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) hosted at Curtin University and conducted by researchers at Deakin University’s Strategic Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation (CREFI). The report focuses on the influence of schools on their students’ higher education (HE) preferences – particularly their preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees – as recorded by the Victorian and South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centres (VTAC and SATAC). Influence is researched in terms of a school’s socioeconomic status, geographical location and sector. The SATAC data set is considerably smaller, at around 8 per cent of the VTAC data set.

Bachelor degrees offered by TAFEs are relatively small in number but a growing higher education option for students in Australia (Gale et al. 2013). The Australian Government’s proposal to extend Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) to include Australian higher education not delivered by the nation’s public universities (Department of Education 2014b), is likely to fuel further growth in TAFE bachelor degree offerings. The recent Report of the Review of the Demand Driven Funding System in Australian higher education (Kemp & Norton 2014), which recommended this change, also makes special mention of non-university degree options as something that would be of particular benefit to students from
low socioeconomic status backgrounds.

The research reported herein is informed by a review of the international research literature, which indicates three main influences on students’ HE preferences: (1) students’ families and communities; (2) the socio-spatial location of their schools; and (3) school practices. This report contributes to understandings on the second of these: the influence of school context (their socio-spatial location) on students’ preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees.

The research found that the annual rate of student preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees was relatively stable (at around 1,500 per annum) from 2009 to 2012 but rose significantly (by 30%) in 2013. Students from high socioeconomic status schools (and with an average ATAR of 56.9) were the group that registered the largest number of preferences. The number of preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees lodged by students from metropolitan schools exceeded the preferences of students from schools located in all other regions combined. This might reflect the fact that TAFE institutions offering bachelor degrees tend to be located in metropolitan areas.

The research also found that students’ preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees increased after announcement of their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), by between 25 and 30 per cent each year. The post-ATAR increase was most noticeable in the Health and Education fields of study and among students from high socioeconomic status schools. The report concludes that while the public perception of TAFE is that it is a sector primarily for students from low SES backgrounds, this is not reflected in students’ preferences for TAFE bachelor degrees. Instead, the preferences of students from high socioeconomic schools outnumber other SES groups in almost every TAFE-degree field of study. This includes the fields of Health and Education, which are often seen to be typical low SES student choices in universities (Gale & Parker 2013).

Read more: Student Preferences for Bachelor Degrees at TAFE (356Kb)

This report is one of a series of 12 funded by the NCSEHE’s 2014 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program.

Gale, T., Parker, S., Molla, T. & Findlay, K. with T. Sealey (2015). Student Preferences for Bachelor Degrees at TAFE: The socio-spatial influence of schools. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Australia. Centre for Research in Education Futures and Innovation (CREFI), Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
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