Education in Australia

Participating and engaging in learning and formal education from an early age are central to a child's development. Completing schooling and higher levels of education (particularly obtaining tertiary level qualifications) offers more employment opportunities and better outcomes, such as higher relative earnings. Low school attainment and poor engagement with school can lead to poorer outcomes in life, including unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

Graphic indicating that in 2016, 3.8 million students were enrolled in 9414 schools. 65%25 were government, 20%25 were Catholic, and 14%25 were independent.

Formal education starts at age 5 or 6 in Australia and is compulsory until completion of Year 10. Young people must then participate in full-time education, employment or training (or a combination) until age 17.

There were 172 registered higher education providers in Australia as at October 2015, 40 of which were universities. In 2015, there were 4,277 vocational education and training providers (including Australian providers operating overseas), enrolling about 4.5 million students. Around 278,500 apprentices and trainees were in training as at September 2016.

As at May 2016, 2.2 million people aged 15-64 were enrolled in formal study towards a non-school qualification—1.3 million (59%) of these at a higher education institution such as a university. Management and commerce (24%) and society and culture (21%) were the most common fields o non-school study.

National literacy and numeracy results steady, but international test results declining

Results in national assessments for literacy and numeracy testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have largely plateaued for students since 2008. However, reading results did improve for Years 3 and 5 in 2016, particularly for Indigenous students.

Lower levels of achievement persist for disadvantaged groups of students; for example, for students in Very remote areas, particularly for writing (see Year 9 results in the figure here).

Programme for International Student Assessment testing showed that, in 2015, Australian students performed significantly below students in 9 other countries for science, 11 countries for reading and 19 for mathematics. While Australia's average score in these 3 areas was higher than the average for 35 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in 2015, its results are significantly lower than those achieved in 2012.

Year 9 achievement at or above the National Minimum Standard in national assessment for reading, writing and numeracy, by remoteness area, 2016

Column graph showing the proportion of students that achieved the National Minimum Standard in national assessment for reading, writing, and numeracy in major cities, inner regional areas, outer regional areas, remote areas, and very remote areas. In all cases, achievement rates drop as location gets more remote. At least 80%25 oc children in major cities achieved the minimum standard in all areas, but less than 60%25 of students in very remote areas did. Writing was the weakest subject overall.

Find out more: Chapter 3.5 'How are we faring in education' in Australia's welfare 2017.

1 in 11 young people not in education or work

Following compulsory schooling, young people have several education and training options. They can enter the workforce, complete further study, or combine both. Although most (91%) people aged 15-24 were engaged in education and/or employment in 2016, 8.8% were not—5.1% of people aged 15-19 and 12% of people aged 20-24.

Between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of people:

  • aged 15-19 not in employment, education or training (NEET) fell (from 7.7% to 5.1%), but the proportion of NEETs aged 20-24 remained similar (at around 12%)
  • aged 15-19 and 20-24 engaged in full-time work (and not studying) fell, while the proportion engaged in full-time study (only) rose
  • aged 20-24 combining work and study increased slightly—from 26% to 29%.

Participation in education and/or employment, people aged 15–24, by age group, 2005 and 2016

Stacked bar chart showing rates of participation in education and/or employment among young people aged 15 to 24, by age group, in 2005 and 2016. The age groups shown are 15 to 19 years and 20 to 24 years. The kinds of employment and education listed are: full-time study only (the largest group in both years for people aged 15 to 19), full-time work only (the largest group in both years for people aged 20-24), combining work and study (around 25-35%25 in both years for both age groups), part-time study only (the smallest group for both age groups in both years), part-time work only (around 5-15%25 for both age groups in both years), and not in study or work (around 5-15%25 for both age groups in both years).

Find out more: Chapter 3.1 'Pathways through education and training' in Australia's welfare 2017.

Enrolments in non-school qualifications on the rise

Higher levels of educational attainment are associated with higher employment rates and higher relative earnings, more social engagement and better health. Non-school education in Australia can be broadly categorised as being either tertiary (also called 'higher education') or vocational education and training (including apprenticeships).

As at May 2016, 2.2 million people aged 15-64 were enrolled in formal study towards a non-school qualification—1.3 million (59%) of these were attending a higher education institution such as a university.

People aged 20-24 made up the highest proportion of people studying for non-school qualifications. Between 2007 and 2016, enrolments increased proportionally for all age groups, with the largest increase seen for people aged 20-24 (from 34% to 42%).

People aged 15-64 enrolled in study towards a non-school qualification, by age group, 2007 to 2016

Line chart showing the proportion of the population aged 15-64 enrolled in study towards a non-school qualification by age group from 2007 to 2016. Generally, the proportion of the population with a qualification tends to decrease as age increases. People aged 45-64 had the lowest proportion across all years, at less than 5%25. People aged 20-24 had the highest proportion in most years, with the lowest level being around 34%25 in 2007 and the highest level being around 42%25 in 2016. The proportion of people enrolled in study towards a non-school qualification increased in all age groups over the course of the period.

Find out more: Chapter 3.4 ‘Tertiary education’ in Australia’s welfare 2017.

Apprenticeship and traineeship numbers continue to fall

As at 30 June 2016:

  • apprenticeship and traineeship commencements (in the previous 12 months) had been falling since a peak in 2012, and were at their lowest since 1998 (168,800 in 2016)
  • completions (in the previous 12 months) had also been falling since a peak in 2013, and were at their lowest since 2002 (107,900 in 2016).

Most of the recent decline in apprenticeship and traineeship numbers were in non-trade occupations.

As well as these falls, the proportion of the population who are apprentices and trainees has declined over time for all age groups. For example, the proportion of the population aged 15-19 who were apprentices and trainees declined from 9.4% in 2005 to 6.2% in 2015 (with a peak of 9.9% in 2008).

Apprentices and trainees as a proportion of the population, by age group, 2005–2015

Line graph showing proportions of apprentices and trainees in the age groups 15-19, 20-24, 25-44, and 45-64 over time. There has been a trending decrease for all age groups over the period. In 2005, nearly 10%25 of people aged 15-19 were apprentices or trainees, compared to around 6%25 in 2015. As people get older, fewer are apprentices or trainees.

Find out more: Chapter 3.3 ‘Apprenticeships and traineeships’ in Australia’s welfare 2017.

Gaining full-time employment is increasingly challenging for young people

It can be a challenge for some young people to find sustainable or full-time employment, even after graduating from higher education.

  • The proportion of young people (aged 15-24) in full-time employment has declined over time. In 2017, 27% of young people worked full time, compared with 35% a decade ago and 48% 3 decades ago.
  • The proportion of young people working part time in 2017 was 31%—rising from 28% a decade ago and 13% 3 decades ago.
  • In 2016, 71% of university graduates were working full time 4 months after finishing their undergraduate degree, a fall from 85% in 2008.
  • Most (80-90%) people who complete an apprenticeship or traineeship are employed within 6 months of finishing their training.

University graduates working full time 4 months after finishing their undergraduate degree, 2008 and 2016

Graphic indicating that the proportion of university graduates working full time 4 months after finishing their degree has fallen from 85%25 in 2008 to 71%25 in 2016.

Find out more: Chapter 3.1 ‘Pathways through education and training’ in Australia’s welfare 2017.