28/01/2009 - 22:00

Universities report surge in enrolments

28/01/2009 - 22:00


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Universities are recording stronger enrolment numbers this year as the job market softens.

Universities report surge in enrolments

Universities are recording stronger enrolment numbers this year as the job market softens.

WESTERN Australian universities have experienced a rapid increase in applications for places this year as the job market weakens.

The University of Western Australia has made nearly 4,300 offers for undergraduate courses, the most the university has ever made.

The rise in applications, witnessed nationwide, has been linked to the worsening economic climate.

For WA in particular, academics see a shift of emphasis from obtaining well-paid full-time jobs in the mining and resources sector to investment in long-term career planning with tertiary qualifications required.

WA's university admission authority has reported a 5.4 per cent in increase in application numbers (to 19,024 from 18,397 last year) and a 4 per cent increase in undergraduate place offers (up to 15,224 this year)across the state.

Application numbers by non-school leavers, meanwhile, surged by 13.2 per cent.

While it is tempting to cite the economic slowdown and suffering employment rate as underpinning reasons for the rising demand, UWA admissions manager Wayne Betts told WA Business News the university has experienced a consistently strong demand for its courses, even in the so-called boom years.

"I would not say the state has been going through a brain drain, as many have seen fit to call it. You can't go wrong with a degree behind you and most high school leavers know that. I would say we are just delighted that demand for our courses continues to grow strong," Mr Betts said.

The number of offers made by the university has risen by 6 per cent from 4,039 in 2008 to 4,297 this year, including 621 offers to student in rural WA.

Edith Cowan University vice-chancellor Professor Kerry Cox is also cautious of the economic slowdown theory, saying significant growth in applications started up to 15 months ago independent of the global financial turbulence.

"ECU has had an extensive marketing campaign promoting our sport and health science and business programs. I believe the word is getting out there about the quality of education available," Professor Cox said.

Professor Cox cited a particular increase in mature over-25 student applications, mainly in the fields of education and business, as well as a 10 per cent increase in applications for postgraduate programs. These, he says, tend to be mothers wanting to up-skill themselves or professionals hoping to build up their profile.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Murdoch deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Gary Martin, who said students who had previously put their study plans on hold for well-paid employment opportunities were now returning to complete degrees.

"The global economic crisis had caused much speculation about the job market and it appears that many mature aged students are now returning to university study," Professor Martin said.

Some courses have attracted more interest from students than others.

Education and sport science are proving popular across institutions, as are humanities, while interest in engineering declines.

"Languages, multi-media, architecture and design are all areas that are growing in popularity among students, perhaps as they see that employment in the state will not always revolve around the industry and resources sector," Curtin University vice-chancellor, Professor Jeanette Hacket, said

Professor Hacket believes that, even as university places grow in demand nationally, demand in the state has been amplified by preceding lack of interest as potential students seek money-making jobs instead.

Looking ahead to slowing migration levels, she also stressed that the trend would be in greater participation of students in tertiary education across the state.

"Attracting indigenous students and students from remote areas is really key to the regional development of WA. Curtin attracts 43 per cent of indigenous students in the state and more than any other university nationally."

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds have also been targeted with promotional campaigns.

"Applicant numbers can grow as a result of increasing engagement with a broader spectrum of communities in the state, where students may otherwise never consider university," Professor Hacket said.

"We see this as a part of our social and institutional responsibility."

While Curtin also reports being 6 per cent ahead on its international student application target, there are warnings of a slow-down to come.

Families that had budgeted to fund their children's education in the upcoming year may be less able afford the fees in the future as the crunch begins to bite.

With tertiary education one of the nation's top exports, the decline may lead to a concerning long-term trend.

While numbers are not quite up to the 2005 entry level, there is general consensus that they are certainly set to rise. as the reality of 'getting a job' becomes less attractive in time of employment uncertainty.



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