Understanding the persistence of inequality in higher education: evidence from Australia

Jenny CHESTERS, Louise Watson

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    54 Citations (Scopus)
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    During the latter half of the twentieth century, Australia, like many countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, experienced rapid expansion in participation in higher education which was supported by government through increases in the number of publicly funded university places. However, in spite of this expansion, a disproportionately large share of the undergraduate student population is still drawn from higher socio-economic backgrounds. This paper seeks to understand the persistence of inequality in higher education by examining changes in patterns of participation in Australian universities since the 1970s. Using logistic regressions to analyse data collected by three Australian surveys conducted between 1987 and 2005, the authors examine the influence of having a university-educated parent on an individual’s chances of obtaining a higher education degree. They find that although the expansion of higher education has had some impact in terms of reducing inequality, having a university-educated parent continues to exert a direct effect on an individual’s propensity to graduate from university. The paper draws on the theories of maximally maintained inequality and relative risk aversion to interpret institutional and student behaviour. The policy challenges of addressing structural inequality in higher education are also discussed
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)198-215
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Education Policy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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