A growing number of young Australians from regional areas or disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in university this year after the government removed a cap on the number of students in government-subsidized places. The change is part of a plan to increase the number of citizens with higher-education qualifications to ensure that Australia has a skilled population able to compete in the global economy.
This year, 40,000 students from low socioeconomic backgrounds received university offers, a 19% increase since 2009. They represent a significant segment of the additional 150,000 students who received offers this year after the government introduced changes that are expected to lead to a record 770,000 students enrolled in Australian universities by 2015.
The policies are intended to help increase the number of 25-to 34-year-olds who have a bachelor’s degree or above to 40 percent by 2020, from 35 percent last year, and to raise the number of students from low socio-economic backgrounds attending university to 20 percent of undergraduate enrollments, from 16.5 percent in 2010. The changes, which include financing for additional university places and more financial support for disadvantaged students, are expected to cost the government 38.8 billion Australian dollars over the next four years.
Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, which represents the country’s 39 universities, said the increase in enrollment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom may be the first in their families ever to go to university, was particularly welcome.
“This opportunity can have a profound effect on breaking the cycle of disadvantage. It also represents a big step forward for Australia by more fully developing our human capital potential,” she said in a statement. “More students, though, means more pressure on already stretched university budgets and facilities and puts the spotlight on the need to invest adequately in supporting students who are less well prepared for university.”