The practicalities of growth : exploring attainment targets for enrolments.

Daniel Edwards, ACER

Abstract

In 2009, following the Review of Australian Higher Education carried out by Bradley, Noonan, Nugent and Scales (2008), the Australian Government provided a response in the form of a policy document titled 'Transforming Australia's Higher Education System'. One of the major policy proposals adopted in the document was the target for boosting the educational profile of Australians: 'by 2025, 40 per cent of all 25 to 34 year olds will hold a qualification at bachelor level or above'. The policy was a slight amendment of Bradley Review Recommendation 2, where the Panel had suggested that the target should be set for 2020, but in considering the size, and arguably impossibility (Birrell & Edwards, 2009), of this task, the Government extended the proposed timeframe by five years. While legitimate questions may be asked about the merit of setting targets, given the attention and focus this target has provided around discussion of the future of higher education in Australia, Bradley's message justifying the target appears to ring true: 'Setting targets for the achievement of any goal does not of itself ensure that the goal is achieved. However, it can help. Setting targets that are clear and transparent can focus the mind of policy makers on what needs to be done to achieve the target and can help the community to hold policymakers accountable'. However, while there is a clear and transparent figure – 40 per cent – the actual numbers required to achieve the figure are far from clear. This briefing paper explores the actual numbers and details some different assumptions about how the end product of attainment impacts on the levels of provision that will be required in the Australian higher education sector. [Author abstract]