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Who goes to university? The changing profile of our students

Written by Nick Parr, Macquarie University, for The Conversation

Higher education is a major determinant of a population’s knowledge and skills, workforce participation, employment, incomes, economic growth, immigration, family formation, and of the educational attainment and future prosperity of subsequent generations.

The percentage of Australia’s population with a Bachelor’s degree is high by international standards. But who goes to university? And how are the patterns changing?


In 2013 just over 1.3 million students were enrolled in higher education in Australia. In recent years the number of students has increased as a share of the population, with 2011 census data showing 36.6% of 20-year-olds attending university or other tertiary institutions (up from 32.6% in 2006).

In 2011 the percentage of the population aged 15 and above with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (18.8%) was over nine times the figure for 1971 (2%).

Overseas students account for a high proportion of students by international standards. The rate of growth in the number of international students was especially rapid between 2000 and 2009, and far exceeded that for domestic students. While over the 2010-12 period the number of international students fell (by 3.5%), the increase in domestic students more than offset this numerically.

The percentage of international students peaked at 28.3% in 2009 before falling to 25.0% in 2013. In the first half of 2014 the number of international students in Australia reached a record level.

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Posted 25 May 2015 Posted in Editorial, General, Indigenous, Low SES