Australia in context : an international perspective on our higher education system.

Eva van der Brugge, ACER
Daniel Edwards, ACER


The Australian government has set ambitious targets for its higher education system, aiming to substantially broaden and improve it by increasing participation and transforming funding arrangements. In times of major change, it is useful to place our system in an international context. This 'Joining the Dots Research Briefing' analyses Australia's higher education system in relation to global patterns, examining important international statistics, particularly those relevant to current targets and trends. Although higher education systems vary widely, attempts have been made to cast them into league tables. While the Jiao Tong and the Times Higher Education rankings are the most widely referred to, they take only limited institutional characteristics into account. Clearly, the way in which institutions and systems are ranked depends on which measure of 'success' is given more weight. This briefing gives a richer picture of the input and output factors that influence the functioning of higher education systems internationally, with a focus on better understanding the challenges that lie ahead for Australia. It does not attempt to make qualitative judgments, but simply to enrich the debate by presenting the available data in an accessible format. This briefing focuses on the roles of higher educational systems at all levels, starting with the output of higher education to society, as indicated by student attainment and participation trends. The briefing also compares characteristics of the student body in terms of demographics and international mobility. The authors further look at the impact of higher education on work, both from the national and the student perspective. The final focus of this briefing is the financing of education. The data used for these comparisons are sourced from the most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Education at a Glance series (OECD, 2011), which uses comparable data collected globally in 2009 (or the most recent year for which data are available). For the purpose of this briefing, a selection was made of OECD countries that are relevant for comparison to Australia. Where available, the OECD average is also displayed. [Author abstract]