A study for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University has found that Australia’s higher education system appears to level the playing field in terms of academic achievement for students, regardless of their socio-economic status (SES) background.
The study, Socio-economic Status of Schools and University Academic Performance: Implications for Australia’s Higher Education Expansion by researchers Assistant Professor Ian Li from the School of Population Health at The University of Western Australia and Associate Professor Michael Dockery from Curtin’s NCSEHE, focuses on the role of schools’ SES in determining academic performance at university.
“We have found that students from less privileged schools performed better at university than their peers with equivalent entry scores from more privileged schools,” said Associate Professor Dockery.
“Our results show that increased participation by students from lower SES backgrounds is possible without compromising academic standards.”
“As students from low SES backgrounds are under-represented in higher education, their participation should be encouraged.”
The study’s sample population consisted of 8,417 first-year undergraduate students at an Australian university, from 183 schools.
The study showed that while prior academic achievement is found to be a strong determinant of university academic performance, a student’s personal SES background did not influence their university performance.
Another key finding of the study is that neither school sector, nor resources, impact on students’ academic scores.
“These findings imply that larger amounts of funding per student are not being translated into better outcomes at university, though there are probably variations in resources, such as teacher quality, that were not observable in the study,” Assistant Professor Li said.
“One school effect that did impact upon university performance was that students from all-boys or all-girls schools did not perform as well as their counterparts who had attended a co-ed high school.”
“The study also found that female students strongly outperformed male students in their first year of university, and older students tended to achieve higher marks.”
Latest figures from the Australian Government Department of Education indicate that the proportion of low SES students enrolled in higher education in 2013 was approximately 17 per cent.