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Secondary School Graduate Preferences for Bachelor Degrees and Institutions

A recent study in Central Queensland of over 200 low- and mid-SES secondary school students suggested that schools are very influential in students’ decision-making about their higher education (HE) futures, with 59% of students suggesting that the views of their teachers were important or extremely important in this context.Other studies have noted that between two-thirds and three-quarters of students from low SES backgrounds and/or regional/remote areas aspire to higher education.2 The research, however, is less clear about whether and how the HE aspirations of these students differ from the HE aspirations of students from other SES groups and geographical areas.

A new research project funded by the NCSEHE and led by Professor Trevor Gale from the Centre for Research in Education Futures and Innovation at Deakin University, along with Drs Stephen Parker and Tebeje Molla, seeks to explore whether or not differences exist between these groups of students.

Professor Gale says:

“Researchers pursuing related questions in higher education of ‘access to what?’3 have shown that equity is compromised in the concentration of students from different SES groups and geographical areas within particular fields of study and higher education institutions. For example, students from low SES backgrounds tend to be clustered in Engineering, Teaching and Nursing, and in low-status institutions.4 In a similar vein, this research is interested in a more nuanced understanding of students’ aspirations for higher education, encapsulated in ‘aspiration for what?’ Specifically, the concern is with associations between students’ schools (distinguished by their SES and geographic allocations) and students’ aspirations for particular fields of study and higher education institutions.

The research takes students’ preferences for higher education at the end of their secondary schooling – lodged with state Tertiary Admission Centres (in Victoria and South Australia) – as a proxy for students’ higher education aspirations. In particular, the focus is on students who include a preference to undertake a Bachelor Degree at a TAFE higher education provider and the university degrees they see as comparable. While student numbers in TAFE degrees are still relatively small compared with university degree enrolments, these are growing significantly,5 particularly since the release of the Australian Government’s 20/40 targets for higher education in 2009.”6

The project is expected to be completed by the end of November 2014. A final report will be published here on the NCSEHE website.

Professor Gale is an internationally recognised scholar in education policy and social justice, whose expertise is regularly sought within relevant practice and policy fields, within Australia and internationally. From 2008 to 2011 he was the founding director of Australia’s National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. He is the founding editor of the international journal Critical Studies in Education and a past president of the Australian Association for Research in Education, Australia’s peak association of education researchers. Professor Gale is Chief Investigator on two current ARC projects: the first investigating the aspirations of young people in secondary schools; the second focusing on teachers’ and schools’ social justice dispositions.

1. Gale et al. 2013.
2. Bowden & Dogherty 2010; Gale et al. 2013.
3. E.g. Gowlett 2012; Marginson 2004.
4. Gale & Parker 2013.
5. From 4,851 in 2006 to 19,118 in 2011; Gale et al. 2013.
6. Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System, 2009.

Posted 22 July 2014 Posted in General, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote