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: NCSEHE Briefing Note — Equity student participation in Australian higher education: 2014–2019

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


The new NCSEHE Equity Briefing Note is now available. It reports on undergraduate student data collected by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE). These data are also reported on the NCSEHE Student Equity Data Page. The page is an interactive resource that allow users to make comparisons between institutions, as well as at the national, state or territory, and institutional grouping level.

The Briefing Note outlines trends over the latter half of the past decade, from 2014 to 2019. This period saw a tapering off of growth in domestic undergraduate enrolments in Australia, with an increase in headcount to 765,594 in 2019, or growth of around 8.4% since 2014.

The growth in national undergraduate enrolments between 2014 and 2019 was characterised by divergent outcomes across equity groups. Several groups saw higher rates of growth in enrolments than that seen overall, including: Low SES students (16.1% growth since 2014), Students with Disability (44.4%) and Indigenous students (36.1%). The WINTA (Women in Non-Traditional Areas) student group saw a 9.3% increase in enrolments since 2014, a similar rate of growth to that seen in the overall student population. Three equity groups saw lower rates of enrolment growth than the overall rate, with the Regional (3.5%) and Remote (4.4%) student groups seeing relatively low growth rates, while the number of students from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB students) in fact declined since 2014 (-2.6%). Notably, the negative trend observed in the NESB group’s numbers was also seen for the first time in 2019 in the Low SES student and Regional student groups, with enrolment numbers for both groups declining marginally.

As a consequence of their lower growth rates, the share of undergraduate population of several groups decreased in 2019. These include: Low SES students (16.8% of undergraduates in 2019, down from 17.0% in 2018), Regional students (19.6%, down from 19.8%) and NESB students (3.2%, down from 3.4%). Two equity groups saw marginal increases in their shares — WINTA students (17.7%, up from 17.6% in 2018) and Remote students (0.80%, up from 0.79%). While all equity groups have seen increases in their population shares since 2010, these recent retractions indicate the considerable headwinds the higher education system faced in the latter part of the decade in ensuring that progress in widening participation in Australian higher education continues.

On an encouraging note, the Indigenous share of undergraduate enrolments reached 2.0% for the first time ever in 2019, up from 1.6% in 2014, while the participation of Students with Disability also increased, with the group accounting for 7.7% of domestic undergraduates, representing an historically high level of reporting compared with a 5.8% share in 2014.

Read the full Briefing Note: Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2014–2019 (PDF)

Equity Student Participation in Australian Higher Education: 2014–2019 (Word)