Educational attainment

21% of people

aged 15–64 who acquired disability before age 15 left school before age 16 (8.9% without disability).

34% of people

aged 20 and over with disability have completed Year 12 (66% without disability).

17% of people

aged 20 and over with disability have a bachelor's degree or higher (35% without disability).

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Introduction

Access to education and the level of education attained can affect participation in other key life areas, including employment and ability to achieve economic independence. People with disability are more likely to leave school at younger ages and to have a lower level of educational attainment.

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

Data in this section are largely sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least 1 of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.

The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living—self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability—schooling and employment.

The severity of disability is defined by if a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with 3 core activities—self-care, mobility, and communication—and is grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ need help with 1 or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.


Age left school

Of working-age (aged 15–64) people who acquired disability before age 15, over 1 in 5 (21% or 85,300) left school before age 16, compared with almost 1 in 4 (23% or 350,000) who acquired disability after age 15 and 1 in 11 (8.9% or 1.2 million) without disability (Figure ATTAINMENT.1).

Age groups who left school in more recent years are less likely to have left school before age 16, consistent with improvements in school retention for people with disability over time. Around 1 in 10 (11% or 12,100) people aged 15–24 who acquired disability before age 15 left school before age 16, compared with 3.6% (or 74,700) of those without disability (ABS 2019).

Figure ATTAINMENT.1: Proportion of people who left school before age 16, by disability status and age group, 2018

Column chart showing people with and without disability who left school before age 16, for people currently aged 15–24, 25–64 and all ages. The chart shows people who acquired disability before age 15 and are currently aged 25–64 are more likely (25%) to have left school before age 16 than those without disability (9.9%).


Highest level of education

Completion of Year 12

Around 1 in 3 (34% or 1.2 million) people with disability aged 20 and over, and 1 in 4 (27% or 261,000) with severe or profound disability have completed Year 12 or equivalent. This was much lower than the 2 in 3 (66% or 9.7 million) people without disability in this age range (ABS 2019).

While the completion of Year 12 for those with and without disability has increased in the last decade, this increase was not as pronounced for people with disability.

Whether a person has completed Year 12 varies by age, with those in the older age ranges less likely to have done so. Among people aged:

  • 20–24, 68% (or 90,200) of people with disability had completed Year 12 or equivalent, compared with 85% (or 1.3 million) of people without disability
  • 50–54, 38% (or 99,100) compared with 56% (or 694,000)
  • 85 and over, 15% (or 42,500) compared with 20% (or 20,300) (ABS 2019).

These figures reflect changing patterns of education in Australian society where completion of Year 12 is becoming increasingly common.

Highest level of education attained

In the last decade, the highest level of educational attainment for people with disability has improved, but is still generally lower than for people without disability. For example, the highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor’s degree or higher for:

  • 17% (or 614,000) of people with disability aged 20 and over
  • 11% (or 107,000) of those with severe or profound disability in the same age range.

This compared with 35% (or 5.0 million) of people without disability (ABS 2019).

Other sources of data on non-school qualifications

Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research’s (NCVER) Total Vocational Education and Training (VET) Student Outcomes Collection and Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) Higher Education Student Data Collection and Graduate Outcomes Survey also have information on students with disability studying for a non-school qualification.

These sources define disability differently from each other and from the ABS SDAC. They also rely on self-disclosure of disability. Because of this, figures vary between sources.

Higher Education Student Data Collection

In this collection, students with disability are those who ‘have indicated that they have a disability, impairment or long-term medical condition which may affect their studies’. It shows that in 2018:

  • 6.8% of domestic students disclosed disability
  • 7.1% of students who completed a course in 2018 have disability
  • Students who have disability have lower success rates (82%) than the wider domestic student population (87%). Success rates compare the number of students who passed with the number of students who attempted the course (DESE 2019).

Graduate Outcomes Survey

DESE’s Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) contains information on employment outcomes and salaries for undergraduate and postgraduate coursework level graduates. Data from the 2019 GOS show that graduates from:

  • undergraduate courses who reported they had disability (81%) were less likely than those without disability (87%) to be employed
  • postgraduate coursework courses who reported disability (88%) were less likely than those without disability (93%) to be employed
  • postgraduate research courses who reported disability (86%) were less likely than those without disability (91%) to be employed
  • undergraduate courses who were in full-time employment and who reported disability ($63,400) had similar median full-time salaries to those without disability ($62,600)
  • postgraduate coursework courses who were in full-time employment and who reported disability ($85,300) had the same median full-time salaries as those without disability ($85,300)
  • postgraduate research courses who were in full-time employment and who reported disability ($91,900) had higher median full-time salaries than those without disability ($90,000) (QILT 2019).

Total VET Student Outcomes Collection

In this collection, disability refers to ‘whether the student self-identifies as having a disability, impairment or long-term condition’. Data from the 2019 collection found that vocational education and training (VET) graduates with disability were:

  • less likely (45%) to report ‘improved employment status after training’ than those without disability (68%)
  • less likely (53%) to be employed after training than those without disability (79%)
  • as likely (86%) to report being ‘satisfied with overall quality of training’ as those without disability (88%)
  • less likely (75%) to report having ‘achieved main reason for doing the training’ as those without disability (85%).

Almost 1 in 3 (30%) graduates with disability who were not employed at the start of training reported being employed after training, compared with 50% without disability (NCVER 2019).