News & Events

The typical university student is no longer 18, middle-class and on campus – we need to change thinking on ‘drop-outs’

Written by Marcia Devlin for The Conversation.
23 February 2017

Professor Marcia Devlin is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Quality) and Professor of Learning Enhancement at Federation University Australia. Prior to this, she held academic appointments at RMIT University and the University of Western Sydney; was Associate Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne; was Chair of Higher Education at Deakin University and was Executive Director of Academic Programs and Services at Open Universities Australia.

The federal government released its latest figures on completion rates at Australian universities earlier this year. It shows that students who study off campus, are on a part-time course, are older, Indigenous, from disadvantaged backgrounds or regional areas of Australia are less likely to complete their university course.

Many journalists rushed to decry the “fact” that these “drop-out” rates in some universities are shocking. But, in addition to misunderstanding and therefore misrepresenting the data, the assumptions underpinning how completion rates are calculated are woefully out of date.

Who is the average student?

The current Australian student cohort is different from the one that many readers might imagine – and from the one that existed when mechanisms to measure attrition were created.

While a large number of students (670,000) are in the 18-22 years age bracket, latest available figures from 2015 show there were over 181,000 students aged 30-39; almost 90,000 aged 40-49; over 36,000 aged 50-59; and almost 10,000 aged 60 and over.

As indicated by government statistics on mode of attendance, a growing number of university students have never actually set foot on a campus, having undertaken online and other external modes of study.

These same figures show an increasing number study part-time. Many start, stop and start university study over a very long time. Some take almost a decade to complete a three-year degree.

Read the full article here.

Posted 1 March 2017 Posted in Editorial, General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote