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Australian Social Trends Podcast Episode 15 – Hitting the Books: Characteristics of Higher Education students Highlights from an article of the same name from the July 2013 issue of Australian Social Trends. Transcript

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Australian Social Trends Podcast

Episode 15 – Hitting the Books: Characteristics of

Higher Education students
Highlights from an article of the same name from the

July 2013 issue of Australian Social Trends.
Jane : Hello listeners and welcome to the 15th episode of the Australian Social Trends podcast series, brought to you by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. My name's Jane, and Guin has joined me here today in the studio to discuss the characteristics of higher education students, based on an article from the July issue of Australian Social Trends.
How are you going today, Guin ?
Guin: I'm well, thanks Jane. And you?
Jane: I’m well too, thanks. Ok, so just a quick recap of what’s been happening lately in the Australian Social Trends series:
In September we released a podcast on Same-sex couples, the first podcast based on the July 2013 AST articles. If you are interested in listening to this or any other AST podcast, you can access them on our website, and they can also be accessed on iTunes.
So, today we’re looking at higher education students in Australia – who they are and what they do?
Guin: That’s right Jane – we’re looking at things like work, living arrangements, what people study, and even things like their health.
Jane: Great, let’s get into it. First of all Guin, what do we mean when we say ‘higher education students’?
Guin: Well Jane, for this article we looked at people aged between 15 and 64 years who were enrolled in a university or other tertiary institution. We also looked at the differences between younger and older students, with younger students being aged 15 to 24 years, and older students being 25 to 64 years.
Jane: Ok, so how many students are there?
Guin: In 2011, there were just under a million higher education students in Australia, which is about 6% of people aged 15-64.
Jane: Were they mostly young people or was there a spread of ages?
Guin: There was a bit of a spread, but most students were younger – nearly 60% were aged between 15 and 24.
Jane: Ok, so was there any difference between the sexes – did more men study than women?
Guin: Not any more – since 1987 more women have been enrolled in higher education than men. In 2011, about 57% of students were women.
Jane: That’s pretty interesting. So what sort of things are they studying?
Guin: In 2012, the most popular courses for all students were business and management and teacher education, with 10% enrolled in each of these courses. 5% of students were also enrolled in nursing, and another 5% in each of accounting, and law.
Jane: Did men and women do different courses?
Guin: Yeah, the most popular courses for men were business and management, and banking finance and related fields, while more women studied nursing, teacher education and behavioural sciences.
Jane: Were they studying for their first degree, these students?
Guin: Well, that depended on age. Around 90% of younger students were studying for their first degree (which you might expect), while older students were more likely to be continuing their studies or branching into new fields – 57% of them already had a bachelor degree.
Jane: What about international students – is our student population becoming more multicultural?
Guin: Yeah, it is Jane, though there hasn’t been a big change. Around 33% of students were born overseas in 2011 – up from 30% in 2001. 60% of these were born in Asia, and around 16% were born in Europe.
Jane: Are there any particular countries that more students come from?
Guin: Yeah, looking into that in a bit more detail, we found about 19% of overseas-born students came from China, about 7% from England, 6% from India, 5% from Malaysia and 4% from New Zealand, amongst other countries. A good thing for the country on many fronts, but economically important as well - in 2010, fee income from international students was around $3.7 billion.
Jane: And how about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students – are their numbers improving?
Guin: Well, there’s a good news story there, Jane. Even though only one in 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged15-24 years were studying in 2011 compared with 1 in 5 non-indigenous people the same age, the rate has more than tripled in the last 25 years. Just in the last five years there was a 63% increase - from around 2,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher ed students in 2006 to just under 4,700 in 2011.
Jane: Hmmm. Guin, it’s sometimes said that your background affects your likelihood of going further in education – did you find anything to suggest this was true?
Guin: Yeah, we did. Younger students were more likely to be in higher education when one of their parents had completed a Bachelor Degree or above, and even more likely if both their parents had a degree.
Jane: I suppose they are more likely to be financially well-off and more able to help support their children while they study.
Guin: That’s right.
Jane: Ok, onto a different topic - where do students live?
Guin: Well, students generally live in capital cities, but there were some interesting stories about student mobility. It turns out that if you lived in a capital city in 2006, you were likely to be living in a capital city in 2011 while you studied, but the same was true for people who were living outside a capital city.
Jane: So there wasn’t a big move to the city to study?
Guin: That’s right, only 9% of students had moved to a capital city in the past 5 years. But for those that had moved, the most common reason given by students for their last move was to be closer to education facilities.
Jane: And how about living arrangements – do they tend to live in student accommodation, move out, or stay at home longer?
Guin: Well, that’s a story that’s changed a bit over the last ten years. Compared with 2001, more students were living with their parents, while less were living with a partner, although this was true of young adults in general, not just students. We also talked about this trend in our podcast and article on young adults.

Jane: I remember, that was interesting… What about the students from overseas?

Guin: Yeah, they were more likely to live in overcrowded conditions than students born in Australia – around 20% compared with 6%. We went into this in a bit more detail, and looking at people from countries with a thousand or more students in Australia, we found that around half of students born in Nepal and Afghanistan, and over a third of students born in Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan, lived in an overcrowded dwelling. Overall, about 11% of higher education students lived in overcrowded conditions, compared with 7% of non-students the same age.
Jane: What about earning an income? Were there many students working as well as studying?
Guin: Yes, quite a lot, although how much they worked depended on age. In 2012, younger students were more likely to study full-time and work part-time, or not work at all, while older students were more likely to study part-time and work either full or part-time. Around 90% of younger students were studying full-time in 2012, compared with 42% of older students.
Jane: What sort of jobs did they do?
Guin In 2011, common occupations for older students included registered nurses, university lecturers and tutors, and sales assistants. The most common occupations for younger students were sales assistants, waiters, checkout operators, office cashiers. You’ll notice that all of these jobs have some potential for working part-time.
Jane: They do, don’t they. How about their income – do students have very much?
Guin: In 2009-10, the median income from all sources of income for employed students was $564 a week, with the median income for younger students being much lower than that of older students ($331 compared with $1,103 a week). This income could be more than just wages too – they could also be getting some government support or other income.

Jane: Why such a difference between the younger and older students?

Guin: Well, older students were more likely to be employed in professional occupations and work full-time, while younger students were more likely to be employed in retail and hospitality, and work part-time.
Jane: How about people that didn’t work – were there many students mainly on government allowances?
Guin: Not so many, actually. In 2009-10, the main source of income for 61% of students was a wage or salary. This was more the case for older students, with 67% of them having a wage or salary compared with 56% of younger students. But only around 15% of students had a government pension or allowance as their main source of income. That was the case for both younger and older students.
Jane: Thanks for all that, Guin. Now, we think of students having a bit of a party lifestyle, don’t we? Did you find that was true?

Guin: Interestingly, not so much. After adjusting for age, we found that in 2011-12, higher ed students were half as likely as non-students aged 18-64 to be current smokers. They were also more likely to meet recommended guidelines for exercise but they were just as likely as the non-students to be overweight or obese, based on their BMI.

Jane: What about drinking?
Guin: They were less likely to do that too. In 2011-12, only 14% of students aged 18-64 drank more than two standard drinks a day on average, compared with 21% of others the same age. Students were also less likely to binge drink.
Jane: Binge drink. How did they measure binge drinking?
Guin: OK. Binge drinking was when they consumed more than four standard drinks on a single occasion in the past year. So 45% of higher ed students had been binge drinking, compared with 52% of non-students. So, working hard and studying hard, our higher ed students.
Jane: Ok, that is very interesting! Well, thank you very much for your time today Guin - you've given us some great information.
Guin: Thanks, it was great talking to you, Jane.
Jane: Now for listeners who'd like to know more, the full article is available on the Australian Social Trends home page at
A reminder that the July issue also has some other great articles – Same-sex couples, Spending patterns of Australian couples, and Car Nation, about Australia’s driving habits; definitely worth having a look.

So that's it for this podcast. Thank you for listening and bye for now.

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