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: Completing university in Australia: A cohort analysis exploring equity group outcomes

Written by Daniel Edwards and Julie McMillan, ACER


This briefing paper provides initial analysis of national data on university enrolments, tracking students from commencement to completion of university. The Research Briefing focuses on the completion of university among key equity groups in higher education, offering new insight into the outcomes for a number of groups under-represented in the higher education sector.

This work is part of a larger project funded by a research grant from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE). The project explores the outcomes of equity groups using complex administrative data that allows for the tracking through university of all undergraduates enrolled in Australia.

Substantial work has already explored the hurdles faced by disadvantaged groups of students in accessing university. Such work has facilitated programs to increase representation of these groups in enrolments. The research discussed in this briefing offers a new perspective on analyses of equity in higher education by focusing on the outcomes of those disadvantaged students who succeed in reaching university. The underlying question that guides this research is – ‘Are outcomes equal once students are through the gates of the university?’

The progress of a number of cohorts of university students is explored using data from the Higher Education Student Collection (HESC). The introduction in 2005 of an individual identifier – the Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN) – facilitates the tracking of students as they progress through their courses. The work undertaken here is based on analysis by the Commonwealth Department of Education (DOE, 2014; 2015). The analysis follows one cohort for nine years following commencement at university (from 2005 to 2013) and four cohorts for six years after commencement (commencers in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008). This Research Briefing focuses on students by socioeconomic (SES) background, residential location and Indigeneity.

Read more: Completing university in Australia – ACER Joining the Dots

Edwards, D. and McMillan, J. (2015). Completing university in Australia: A cohort analysis exploring equity group outcomes. Joining the Dots Research Briefing, 3(3). Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Melbourne, Australia.