Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are the suburbs neglected in Australian higher education?

A report commissioned for the Bradley Review of Higher Education by Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research (both boring web sites, BTW) argues that school-leavers in the outer suburbs of Australia's capital cities face a "triple disadvantage" of distance form a university campus, modest family incomes, and medicore schooling affecting their final scores adn therfore entry to university.

Guy Healy deals with this in The Australian today.

SCHOOL-LEAVERS in the middle to outer suburbs of Australia's capitals are often "triple handicapped" in their access to university, according to expert advice to the government's Bradley review obtained under Freedom of Information.

The report, Higher Education: Demand and Supply Issues, was written by Bob Birrell, Ernest Healy, Daniel Edwards and Ian Dobson from Monash's Centre for Population and Urban Research.

As the Senate estimates committee recently heard, the government plans to recruit an extra 100,000 university students by 2025.

The advice from demographer Dr Birrell is that the push will have to come from under-prepared suburban frontiers of the nation's metropolises.

"Young people located in outer suburbs often suffer a double or triple handicap as regards access to higher education," says Dr Birrell's report, which appears to have influenced the government's recent equity-based push in tertiary education.

These young people live long distances from a university, their family income is modest and they have often gone to poor-performing, vocationally oriented government schools where the median equivalent national tertiary entrance rank score is generally below that for career-specific courses.

Dr Birrell told the HES: "You can characterise all the capital cities in the same way. (But) it's really serious in southeast Queensland, where you have a rapid spread of suburbs north and south of Brisbane, but there are very limited facilities. And it's pretty extreme in Perth."

The chances of young people from these social backgrounds successfully competing for career-specific university places are limited, the report says, especially since "competition for HECS places in (these) courses has become increasingly fierce in Australia over the past decade".

Such is the demand for HECS places - especially at highly ranked universities - that increasing numbers of parents are willing to invest in private school education for their children while public school parents invest heavily in the residential zones of select high schools.

Dr Birrell said access to the high-demand universities and courses was increasingly dominated by students from private schools and high performing or select government schools. He quoted a report from the Australian Council of Educational Research that found 60 per cent of students from an independent school received an offer and enrolled in 2002, compared with 50 per cent from Catholic schools and 32 per cent from government schools generally.

However, in the case of those from government schools, the share of those from high-performing schools - such as Melbourne High, MacRoberston Girls High, Glen Waverley High and Balwyn High - who received an offer was "way above" that of government schools located in outer suburbia.

The report highlights outer southwestern Sydney, outer western Sydney, Fairfield and Gosford-Wyong in NSW, and southeastern outer Melbourne, Frankston and Mornington in Victoria as areas with low participation and most potential to recruit young people to university.

The report notes that there has been very little increase in the number of completions at the undergraduate level at Australian universities since 2000.

It calls for university places to be targeted to outer suburban areas with low participation rates and backed by increased student support.

In the budget the federal government announced $437 million would be invested in boosting participation over four years, including $108 million for universities to build long-term partnerships with schools and communities in disadvantaged areas.

1 comment:

Keith Duddy said...

When I was an outer-suburban teenager, the prospect of going to Uni was one of getting outside my old stomping ground and going in to the inner city to study. It was the best thing that could have happened to me - my horizons were expanded, I learned to love old architecture and the urban zone, and it encouraged me to leave the nest, and reduce my commuting time by living near the university. I can't imagine being consigned to an outer-suburban university campus, and getting only the book learning and none of the life learning.

In comparison, think of the UK model, where going to Uni is almost always a choice of going to another town or city, and making your break from your comfortable and cloying cul-de-sac existence.