Higher Education

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 223–247

Measurement of the socio-economic status of Australian higher education students

  • Julie McMillan
  • John Western

DOI: 10.1023/A:1003943824357

Cite this article as:
McMillan, J. & Western, J. Higher Education (2000) 39: 223. doi:10.1023/A:1003943824357


The underrepresentation of persons from socio-economicallydisadvantaged backgrounds in higher education in countries such as Australia isof policy concern. In order to be able to identify such individuals fortargeted interventions and to monitor their participation rates, it is necessary to havean accurate, simple to administer, and relatively inexpensive method of measuringstudents' socio-economic characteristics.

We demonstrate that the postcode methodology currently used bythe Australian Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) formonitoring purposes, while being relatively simple and inexpensive toadminister, is subject to considerable error. A student is allocated the `average'socio-economic status (SES) of all persons living within their residential postcode area, butareas can contain a mix of people from low, medium and high socio-economicbackgrounds. In order to identify more accurately low SES students, we develop measuresbased upon the characteristics of individual students, rather than thecharacteristics of the area in which they reside.

These new measures are based upon the results of theParticipation in Higher Education Survey. This survey was conducted in the second half of1997 and was based upon a sample of approximately 3000 first year studentsenrolled at a range of campuses throughout one Australian State. Our findings suggestthat individual-based measures relating to the occupation and education ofparents at the time when the student was in high school are appropriate for theclassification of both recent school leavers and mature aged students. Together, thesecharacteristics represent the family socio-economic situation while the studentwas attending secondary school.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie McMillan
    • 1
  • John Western
    • 2
  1. 1.Sociology Program, Research School of Social SciencesThe Australian National UniversityAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and SociologyThe University of Queensland, s[QLDAustralia

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