For Indigenous students in government-funded Vocational education and training (VET) courses:
- enrolments increased by 18% from 70,700 to 83,300 for the full calendar years 2015 to 2019 (NCVER 2020).
- 68,000 Indigenous students were enrolled in the period January to September 2020, a decrease of 5.2% from the same period in 2019 (NCVER 2021).
Improvements have been made in university enrolments and course completions for Indigenous Australians in recent years. Between 2010 and 2019:
- The number of Indigenous students almost doubled, from 11,024 to 21,033.
- There was a 108% increase in the number of higher education course completions by Indigenous students (from 1,424 to 2,964) (DESE 2020).
Despite this progress, Indigenous Australians continue to be under‑represented in universities, comprising 1.9% of the domestic higher education student population, compared with 3.3% of the total Australian population. Indigenous Australians comprised 2.3% of the domestic higher education student population aged 25–34, compared with 3.4% of the Australian population this age (DESE 2020, 2021 unpublished; ABS 2019).
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all levels of the education system in Australia in 2020.
The majority of students experienced a rapid transition to home-based online learning due to school closures. Although children of essential workers and vulnerable students were still able to attend school, the vast majority of students used home-based learning. The response to COVID-19 emphasised persistent inequities experienced by vulnerable population groups (Drane et al. 2020). Indigenous students across Australia and persons living in remote areas are among those with an existing risk of increased challenges with access to technology, support and isolation (Bennett et al. 2020; Lamb 2020).
The COVID-19 response also included social distancing measures, travel restrictions, the closure of non-essential services, stimulus packages and free childcare for working parents (Storen et al. 2020).
These and many other complex factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic may shift trends in education data. The data presented on this page reflect the ‘pre-COVID-19’ picture because data are not yet available for the COVID-19 period. Further assessments on the impact of COVID-19 on education for Indigenous Australians will be made in the future as data allow it.
For more information on Indigenous education and skills and on progress on the education-related Closing the Gap targets, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2011. The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, October 2010: links between education and health. ABS cat. no. 4704.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019. Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 to 2031, ABS cat. no. 3238.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2020. Australian demographic statistics: National, state and territory population, ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.
ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) 2019. NAPLAN achievement in reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy: national report for 2019. Sydney: ACARA.
ACARA 2021. National Report on Schooling in Australia Data Portal: Student Attendance. Sydney: ACARA.
Bennett R, Uink B & Cross S 2020. Beyond the social: Cumulative implications of COVID-19 for first nations university students in Australia. Social Sciences & Humanities Open,(2)1.
Biddle N & Cameron T 2012. Potential factors influencing Indigenous education participation and achievement. Research report for the National Vocational Education and Training Research Program. Adelaide: National Centre for Vocational Education Research.
DESE (Department of Education, Skills and Employment) 2020. Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2019 Student data. Canberra: DET.
DET (Department of Education and Training) 2019a. Australian Early Development Census National Report 2018. Canberra: DET.
DET 2019b. Trends from the AEDC. Canberra: DET.
Drane C, Vernon L & O’Shea S 2020. The impact of ‘learning at home’ on the educational outcomes of vulnerable children in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Literature Review prepared by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, Australia.
Hart M, Moore M & Laverty M 2017. Improving Indigenous Health through education. The Medical Journal of Australia 207(1):11–12.
Lamb S 2020. Impact of learning from home on educational outcomes for disadvantaged children, brief assessment. DESE, Australia.
NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) 2020. Australian vocational education and training statistics: Government-funded students and courses 2019. NCVER, Adelaide.
NCVER 2021. Australian vocational education and training statistics: government-funded students and courses — January to September 2020. NCVER, Adelaide.
PM&C (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) 2020. Closing the Gap Report 2020. Canberra: PM&C.
Productivity Commission 2021. Closing the Gap information repository. Data dashboard: Socioeconomic outcome area 6. Viewed 16 July 2021.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2020. Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2020. Canberra: SCRGSP, Productivity Commission.
Storen R & Corrigan N 2020. COVID-19: a chronology of state and territory government announcements (up until 30 June 2020). Research paper series, 2020–21. Department of Parliamentary Services.
Thomson S, De Bertoli L, Underwood C & Schmid M 2019. PISA 2018: Reporting Australia’s Results. Volume I Student Performance. Victoria: Australian Council for Education Research.