University participation is a strong predictor of labour market success, personal health and wellbeing, and positive familial and social outcomes. However, in contemporary Australia large differences in University participation rates remain between young people from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. We leverage longitudinal data for a representative Australian sample of students and state-of-the-art statistical techniques to examine how belonging to an equity-group (coming from a low socio-economic background, non-English-speaking background or a regional/remote area), school factors (career guidance and school experiences), and students’ likelihood to enrol into University are intertwined.
Our research yields three key findings. First, young people from low socio-economic backgrounds and from regional/remote areas within Australia are less likely to enrol into University than young people from high socio-economic backgrounds and non-regional/remote areas within Australia. The picture is different for our third equity group of interest: students from non-English-speaking backgrounds are more likely to enrol at University. Second, our two sets of school factors were generally associated with an increasing probability to attend University: students who held positive attitudes towards school, who reported having a positive relationship with their teachers, and who received different forms of career guidance were more likely to enrol at University, and did so at earlier ages. Third, we find some evidence that some school factors have stronger effects on University enrolment amongst students from equity groups. For example, positive student-teacher relations and talks by school career advisors were more conducive to subsequent University enrolment amongst young people from low socio-economic backgrounds, and positive student-teacher relations and career group discussions more strongly predicted subsequent University enrolment amongst young people from regional/remote areas within Australia.
These findings are important and policy relevant. In particular, they provide strong evidence of the importance of in-school career advice and guidance and school experiences in shaping the chances of University participation among young people, particularly those from equity groups. Policy initiatives aimed at improving these school factors will result in expanded University enrolments, and smaller enrolment gaps between young people from advantaged and disadvantaged social strata. In addition, these factors are easy to address through policy intervention (as they can be regulated by Government through schools) and are ‘preventive strategies’ with fewer costs and greater returns to investment than ‘remedial strategies’ to compensate for social disadvantage due to poor education. Therefore, we argue that investments into these factors should be considered a priority.
December 6, 2016