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The impact of financial support on university deferral

While there has been a substantial decline in the proportion of university deferrals in Victoria since student financial support has been increased, location and socioeconomic status continue to play a role in restricting access to higher education.

In the latest ACER Joining the Dots research briefing, Principal Research Fellows Drs Sheldon Rothman and Daniel Edwards use data from Victoria’s annual post-school transitions survey to explore the extent to which deferral rates have changed since 2008, and the influence policy changes to financial support may have had on deferral decisions.

Their analysis reveals Year 12 completers from Victoria’s non-metropolitan schools are twice as likely to defer compared to students from metropolitan schools.

‘Deferral is often thought of as a way for ‘rich kids’ to head off around the world on a gap year, but in reality this is not always the case. For young people from non-metropolitan areas in particular, deferral is often necessary in order to save and prepare for the costs related to accessing university,’ Dr Edwards said.

While the deferral rate of metropolitan school completers remained stable from 2008 to 2012 – at around eight per cent of those who received a university offer – the trend for non-metropolitan students was substantially different, falling from a peak of 22 per cent in 2009 to 15 per cent in 2010.

Drs Rothman and Edwards note that this shift coincides with the introduction in 2010 of a Relocation Scholarship for outer regional and remote students, and the easing of Youth Allowance eligibility criteria for workforce participation and parental income.

In 2009, waiting to qualify for Youth Allowance was the most commonly cited reason for deferral among regional students, before falling by around 20 percentage points in 2010. By 2011, the most commonly cited reason for deferral among regional students was the need to move away from home.

According to Drs Rothman and Edwards, variation between Victoria’s five non-metropolitan regions suggests that changes to financial support alone do not explain the decline in referral rates.

Year 12 completers who attended schools in the Gippsland and Hume regions were more likely to have deferred study than those who attended schools in the Barwon South Western, Grampians and Loddon Mallee regions. Deferrers from the Gippsland and Hume regions were also more likely to state that travel and the need to move away from home – and the associated financial pressure this would put on their family – were the reasons behind their decision to defer. As Gippsland and Hume are the only two Victorian regions without a major university campus, Drs Rothman and Edwards suggest that proximity to a large ‘local’ university campus may be a continuing influence on both deferral and enrolment.

‘It is possible that Year 12 completers from the Gippsland and Hume regions would take up a tertiary place if there were more study options available closer to home,’ Dr Edwards said.

The analysis also highlighted the effect of policy changes to financial support by socioeconomic background. The deferral rate among outer regional students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds declined from 24 per cent in 2009 to 15 per cent in 2010, while the decline for outer regional students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds declined from 18 per cent in 2009 to 16 per cent in 2010.

‘For a system that has been trying to increase the representation of students from low socioeconomic areas, resolving issues around accessibility is fundamental to increasing the likelihood of a university offer translating into an enrolment,’ Dr Edwards said.■

Further information:
Joining the Dots is ACER’s series of research briefings about Australian Higher Education with a focus on data-driven analyses of policy, accessible through Informit. Further information about content and access is available at www.acer.edu.au/jtd or by emailing jtd@acer.edu.au.

Read the full report:
Changing deferral patterns: The influence of growth, changing support and geography, by Sheldon Rothman and Daniel Edwards, is available via Informit.

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