Research shows young people in WA don’t value tertiary education

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

New research reveals that young West Australians are placing less value on tertiary education.

The findings are the result of the State Government’s appointment of an expert panel to review WA’s four public universities and recommend structural changes that  could improve performance.

Low enrolment growth, a decline in research funding and international student revenue triggered the review, which began in February this year.

International student enrolments at WA universities show Australia’s lowest growth

Between 2010 and 2019, tertiary institutions in WA recorded the smallest percentage of Australian enrolment growth – bringing in only 5.5 per cent of the country’s international student revenue in 2020.

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The review, said WA Education Minister Tony Buti, was to keep pace with a “rapidly” evolving world of work.

“This is a chance to have a fresh look at the way our university sector is performing and get a thorough understanding and a blueprint of how we can do things differently to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world,” he said.

Young people in WA don’t see university as a vital pathway

Data released by Fiverr this year reveals 65 per cent of West Australians aged between 18 and 22 years old don’t view university as a “must-have” stepping stone toward their dream careers.

The survey included 1000 participants across Australia. But while young people in WA had clear ideas about the perceived lack of value university education offered them, 63 per cent of Victorians and 57 per cent of Queenslanders said they believed university was a critical part of their path towards their chosen career.

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Enrolment statistics from WA’s top universities reflect the lack of confidence in what a tertiary degree can offer, with undergraduate enrolment numbers at the University of Western Australia remaining relatively stagnant between 2018 and 2020. From 2021 to 2022, the cohort grew by just 255 students.

The university cited a highly competitive environment within the state in its submission to the review.

“A solid domestic student base is essential for sustained growth,” the report said.

“However with only 110,914 domestic students in higher education in WA and a total population of 2.7 million, WA’s universities face a highly competitive environment compared to those in other states.”

At the state’s Curtin University, enrolment statistics show an overall growth. Between 2018 to 2022, there were 1902 students enrolled.

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Murdoch University’s enrolment statistics fell from 24,095 students in 2018 to 21,270 students in 2022.

But despite the statistics clearly showing young people in WA are less motivated to pursue tertiary studies, a State Government spokesperson said education and training remained a top priority for growing skilled workforces.

“Our government is focused on doing all that we can to make sure we have the right settings in place to meet the needs of students and employers,” they said.

The independent sector review is expected to deliver its final report later in 2023.


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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]