Foreign graduate numbers exceed domestic graduates at Australian universities
Kite surfers ride over a windy and choppy Botany Bay in Sydney, Australia, December 20, 2016. Image via Reuters.

More international students graduate on time compared to domestic students for both Table A Institutions and Non-University Higher Education Institutions (NUHEIs) in Australia, new figures from the Department of Education and Training shows.

The report released yesterday used student ID, Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number, CHESSN and student data from the 2014 Higher Education Statistics Collection to track how many students have completed their studies. Completion rates for NUHEIs are also published for the first time in this report.

Table A Institutions refer to the 40 universities listed in Australia’s Higher Education Funding Act 1988 which are self-accredited and are eligible for all funding under the Act, such as Monash University and University of New South Wales. Commonly, they are known as the ‘public universities’.

Whereas NUHEIs are for the most part, for-profit private higher education institutions. Examples are Sydney Institute of Business and Technology and Academy of Design Australia Limited.

More international students graduate

The report’s figures are most stark when international students are compared with domestic students over a four-year period.

70.8 percent of international undergraduate students in Table A Institutions’ 2011 cohort graduated after four years, a much higher rate than the 45 percent graduation rate of local undergraduate students.

Whereas at NUHEIs, the graduation rate for international students was 62.8 percent, a figure that the report described as “considerably higher” than the domestic students’ graduation rate of 39.2 percent. This shows a difference of 23.6 percent, which is about the same when they were compared over a six-year period, which showed a difference of 22.9 percent.

The difference is less pronounced when the analysis is made over a nine-year period (2006-2014).

At Table A Institutions, international students (77.1 percent) only fared marginally better compared to local students (73.5 percent) when tracked over a nine-year period.

Different students, different graduation rates

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Place of origin isn’t the only determining factor affecting graduation rates. In Australia, the report found that the type of attendance (full-time/part-time) and the age of a student had a greater influence on whether they would graduate on time compared to other characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, Indigenous status, regional classification, gender, and non-English-speaking background

Part-time students were less likely to complete their studies compared to full-time students, accounting for 6.31 percent of the variation in completion rates

Age played the second largest influence on completion rates compared with other variables.

Older students were less likely than younger students to complete their studies, explaining 3.87 percent of the difference in completion rates.

Compared to the above, socioeconomic status and regional classification, among others, only showed minimal variation, at 0.57 percent and 0.36 percent respectively.

Reports like this, which tracks students over time, allows governments to better understand students’ progress through the higher education system. Another benefit is that it works as a useful tool to identify students who may be more likely to drop out. Such identification makes way for early assistance and intervention to be given.

“To the thousands of students anxiously checking emails, text messages, newspapers, and mail boxes this week to learn what your future study options might be, I urge you to take your time to understand those options,” said Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, to The Age.

“We’ve heard too many stories about students who have changed courses, dropped out because they made the wrong choices about what to study, students who didn’t realise there were other entry pathways or who started a course with next to no idea of what they were signing themselves up for,” he said.

National and international comparisons

The highest completion rate in the country went to Melbourne University, with 88 percent of the 2009 cohort having completed their studies by 2014. Second in line was the University of Sydney, followed by the Australian National University.

According to recent OECD data, Australia’s completion rates for Bachelor degree programmes were the third highest, at 82 percent in 2011. The OECD average is 70 percent.

Australia’s completion rate also stands favourably in comparison to other countries with similar tertiary systems, such as the United Kingdom (79 percent), New Zealand (66 percent) and the United States (64 percent).

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