Better health and ageing for all Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) 2012

Tier 2—Socio-economic factors—2.06 Educational participation and attainment of adults

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Why is it important?:

Education is a key factor in improving health and wellbeing. Longitudinal studies show that people who go on to higher education (universities and other tertiary institutions) and graduate with a degree or diploma are more likely to obtain full-time work and earn higher incomes compared with those who do not. Likewise people who complete a vocational education and training (VET) course are more likely to be employed after the completion of their course than they were before. Those undertaking VET education who are already employed are more likely to receive a promotion and/or an increase in income after completion of their course (SCRGSP 2007).

Research has shown that health outcomes are influenced by a person's ability to use a wide range of health-related materials and resources. The mean health literacy score for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 2006 was lower than for non-Indigenous Australians. Lower health literacy is likely to be a barrier to health promotion activities based around health education and is also likely to be a barrier in accessing early treatment (Centre for Medicare Education 2000; National Centre for Education and Training Statistics & ABS 2008).

Findings:

In 2008, 19% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over were currently studying at an educational institution compared with 16% of non-Indigenous Australians in the same age range.

Year 12 was the highest level of school completed by 23% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in 2008, compared with 51% of non-Indigenous adults. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who had completed Year 12 increased from 19% in 2002 to 23% in 2008. Younger age groups were more likely to have completed Year 12. Among those aged 18–24 years, the proportion who had completed Year 12 was 32%. People in remote areas were less likely than those in non-remote areas to have completed Year 12 (16% compared with 25%).

In 2008, approximately 40% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 25–64 years reported they had a non-school qualification compared with 61% of non-Indigenous Australians within this age group. A slightly higher proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over were studying at TAFE/VET, particularly in the 45 and over age group, compared with non-Indigenous Australians. A similar proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aged 25–64 years had completed a certificate qualification. Fewer Indigenous Australians were currently studying at university/other higher education institutions in 2008 compared with non-Indigenous Australians (3% and 6% respectively), particularly in the younger age groups. Much lower proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had a bachelor degree or above as their highest level of non-school qualification (7%) compared with non-Indigenous Australians (25%).

VET courses are providing large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with non-school education training opportunities. During the year 2010, there were approximately 13,904 course completions in the VET sector by Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over. This constitutes 4% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 15 years and over compared with 2% for other Australians.

Between 1996 and 2010, there was a significant increase in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students who had completed a course in the VET sector and the magnitude of the increase among Indigenous students was considerably higher. In 2008, the VET load pass rate for Indigenous students was 72% compared with 81% for other Australian students.

During 2010, 0.4% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples completed a course in the higher education sector compared with 1.3% of other Australians. In the 22–24 year age group, 0.9% of Indigenous Australians completed a course in the higher education sector compared with 9% of other Australians. The gap narrows in the older age groups indicating that Indigenous students completing higher education courses have an older age profile than other students.Top of page

Implications:

Despite improvements in recent years there are still large gaps between Indigenous Australians and other Australians in educational participation and attainment. The greatest improvements have been in the VET sector where Indigenous participation exceeds non-Indigenous participation. However there are continuing large gaps in the university sector and in course completion rates for both VET and university.

Education is a powerful tool in achieving better health, education and economic outcomes (Hunter et al. 2003; IHEAC 2006). The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy includes a number of goals relevant to this performance measure including equality of access, participation, involvement and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Australian Government is the primary funding source and developer of policy relating to the higher education sector. A range of measures are in place to support Indigenous students in higher education including: the Indigenous Support Program, Indigenous Higher Education Centres and Tutorial Assistance. Funding to support Indigenous students in the VET sector is also available (e.g., Supplementary Recurrent Assistance, Infrastructure and Tutorial Assistance).

The universities with the highest success with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have formal policies for encouraging Indigenous students, allocated places and specific pathways as well as support strategies (Drysdale et al. 2006). There remains a strong need to focus efforts on supporting Indigenous students to complete higher education qualifications to bridge the gap in participation and attainment.Top of page
Figure 96—Educational institution currently attended, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 15 years and over, 2008
Figure 96—Educational institution currently attended, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 15 years and over, 2008
Source: AIHW and ABS analysis of the 2008 NATSISS. Non-Indigenous estimates are from the NHS 2007–08
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Figure 97—Highest level of school completed, by Indigenous status, persons aged 18 years and over, 2001, 2002 and 2008
Figure 97—Highest level of school completed, by Indigenous status, persons aged 18 years and over, 2001, 2002 and 2008
(a)Includes persons who never attended school.
Source: AIHW and ABS analysis of the 2002 and 2008 NATSISS. Non-Indigenous estimates are from the NHS 2001 and 2007–08
Figure 98—Highest non-school qualifications, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 25–64 years, 2008
Figure 98—Highest non-school qualifications, by Indigenous status and age group, persons aged 25–64 years, 2008
Source: AIHW and ABS analysis of the 2008 NATSISS. Non-Indigenous estimates are from the NHS 2007–08
Figure 99—Total completions in the VET sector for persons aged 15 years and over, by Indigenous status, 1996–2010
Figure 99—Total completions in the VET sector for persons aged 15 years and over, by Indigenous status, 1996 to 2010
Source: AIHW analysis of National Centre for Vocational Education Research, National VET Provider Collection 2010
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