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2.06 Educational participation and attainment of adults

Why is it important?

Adult learning is a powerful tool in achieving better health, education and economic outcomes (Chandola et al. 2014). Longitudinal studies show that adults who participate in learning post-school engage in more healthy behaviours including increased amounts of physical exercise, reduced alcohol consumption, and improved social and emotional wellbeing. Marmot et al. (2010) argue that adult learning should be made available to those who are unemployed or economically inactive in order to reduce health inequalities. Research also shows that the value of education in mid-life is greatest for those with the poorest education at the time of leaving school, with qualifications achieved at this life-stage offering a protective effect against coronary heart disease (Chandola et al. 2011). Biddle (2014b) found disability and low financial resources were significant impediments for Indigenous Australians completing a post-school qualification (see measures 1.14 and 2.08).

There are strong associations between formal educational attainment (particularly Year 12), parental educational attainment and measures of health literacy (ABS 2008). Research shows health outcomes are influenced by a person's ability to use a wide range of materials and resources to build health knowledge and enable empowered health decision making. Lower health literacy is a barrier to acquiring health education information and accessing treatment (ACSQHC 2013).

Findings

In 2012–13, 20% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over were currently studying at an educational institution compared with 17% of non-Indigenous Australians in the same age range. However, Indigenous Australian young adults (aged 15–24 years) were less likely to be studying than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

In 2012–13, Year 12 was the highest level of school completed by 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 18 years and over. In comparison, non-Indigenous Australians aged 18 years or over were more likely to have completed Year 12 or equivalent (54%). The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 18 years and over who completed Year 12 increased from 19% in 2002 to 27% in 2012–13. Indigenous Australians aged 18 years and over living in remote areas were less likely than those living in non-remote areas to have completed Year 12 or equivalent (20% compared with 29%).

In 2012–13, 43% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 20–64 years reported they either had a Certificate III or above or were studying; a 17 percentage point increase from 2002. In 2011–12, 67% of non-Indigenous Australians aged 20–64 years reported they had either a Certificate III or above or were studying.

Higher proportions of Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over were studying at TAFE/VET, particularly in the 45 and over age group, compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Fewer Indigenous Australians were currently studying at university/ other higher education institutions in 2012–13 compared with non-Indigenous Australians (4% and 7% respectively), particularly in the younger age groups. However, Indigenous Australians in the 45 years and over age group were 1.5 times as likely to be studying at university/other higher education institutions compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Overall, much lower proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had a bachelor degree or above as their highest level of non-school qualification (6%) compared with non-Indigenous Australians (26%).

VET courses are providing large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with non-school education training opportunities. In 2012, there were approximately 20,300 course completions in the VET sector by Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over. This constitutes 5% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 15 years and over compared with 3% for other Australians.

Between 1996 and 2012, there was a significant increase in the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students who had completed a course in the VET sector and the magnitude of the increase among Indigenous students was higher. In 2012, the VET load pass rate for Indigenous students was 75% compared with 83% for other Australian students.

During 2012, 0.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples completed a course in the higher education sector compared with 1.9% of other Australians. In the 22–24 year age group, 0.8% of Indigenous Australians completed a course in the higher education sector compared with 9.6% of other Australians. The gap narrows in the older age groups indicating that Indigenous students completing higher education courses have an older age profile than other students. Higher education award completions by Indigenous students increased by 8 percentage points between 1996 and 2012; however, this increase was at a slower rate than for other Australians and the gap has widened.

In 2012–13, Indigenous Australians aged 15–64 years who had non-school qualifications were more likely to be employed (64%) than those without non-school qualifications (36%). Indigenous adults who had non-school qualifications were also more likely to be in the top two income quintiles (20%) than those without non-school qualifications (9%).

Implications

Despite improvements in recent years, there are still large gaps between Indigenous Australians and other Australians in educational participation and attainment. The greatest improvements have been in the VET sector where Indigenous participation exceeds non-Indigenous participation.

A range of measures are currently in place to support Indigenous students in higher education including the Commonwealth Scholarships Programme, the Indigenous Support Programme and the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPP). The HEPP commenced in January 2015.

The aim of the HEPP is to increase the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds who access, participate and succeed in higher education. In line with recommendations of the 2012 Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, all universities have put targets and strategies in place for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to and outcomes from higher education.

Figure 2.06-1 Educational institution currently attended, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 15 years and over, 2012–13
educational institution currently attended

Figure 2.06-1 shows the proportion of different types of educational institutions attended by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over in 2012–13. Data is presented for the following types of educational institution: secondary school; university/other higher education; and technical and further education. Data is presented for the following age groups: 15-24 years; 25-34 years; 35-44 years; and 45 years and over. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.06-2 Highest level of school completed, by Indigenous status, persons aged 18 years and over, 2001/2002, 2008 and 2012–13
highest level of school completed

Figure 2.06-2 shows the proportion of different highest levels of school completed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (in 2002, 2008 and 2012–13) and non-Indigenous Australians (in 2001, 2008 and 2012–13) aged 18 years and over. Data is presented for the following highest levels of school completed: Year 9 or below; Year 10 or 11; and Year 12. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

a) includes persons who never attended school.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2002, 2008 NATSISS and 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.06-3 Higher education award course completions, by Indigenous status, 1996 to 2012
higher education award course completions

Figure 2.06-3 shows the proportion of total completions in the higher education sector for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over. Annual data is presented from 1996 to 2012. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: AIHW analysis of DEEWR Higher Education Statistics Collection

Figure 2.06-4 Total completions in the VET sector for persons aged 15 years and over, by Indigenous status, 1996 to 2012
total completions in the VET sector

Figure 2.06-4 shows the proportion of total completions in the VET sector for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over. Annual data is presented from 1996 to 2012. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: AIHW analysis of NCVER, National VET Provider Collection, 2012

Figure 2.06-5 Highest non-school qualifications, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 20 years and over, 2012–13
highest non-school qualifications

Figure 2.06-5 shows the proportion of different highest non-school qualifications attained by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians aged 25-64 years in 2012–13. Data is presented for the following highest non-school qualifications: certificate; advanced diploma/diploma; and bachelor degree or above. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS