The Post-School Education Choices of Young Women in Australia and Canada

By Austen, Siobhan; MacPhail, Fiona | The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR, November 2011 | Go to article overview

The Post-School Education Choices of Young Women in Australia and Canada


Austen, Siobhan, MacPhail, Fiona, The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR


1. Introduction

Young Canadian women engage in post-school education at a much greater rate than their Australian peers. In Canada, in 2006, the proportion of young adults with a post-school qualification was the highest in the group of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, at 51.9 per cent, while in Australia this proportion was only 38.4 per cent (OECD 2008a).

Importantly, a large part of the difference in young women's participation rates is associated with the non-university post-school sector. The proportion of women with a university qualification is roughly the same in the two countries: according to OECD (2006, Table A1.3c) education data for 2004, 23 per cent of Australian women have a bachelor degree or higher. In Canada, this figure is 22 per cent. However, there are large differences in rates of engagement in what the OECD (2006) refers to as 'tertiary-type B' qualifications. (1) In 2004, 26 per cent of Canadian women, as compared to 10 per cent of Australian women, held such a qualification (OECD 2006, Table A1.3c).

A number of features of the Canadian college system contrast with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in Australia and are likely to contribute to these differences in participation rates. Canadian colleges play a substantial role in the degree-granting process in several key provinces. In some cases, colleges offer students the preliminary years of their degree programs; in others, they offer entire degree programs. The Canadian college system also features a set of articulation arrangements between colleges and universities that enable graduates of particular college programs to transition into related university degree programs. Young women also enter Canadian colleges to pursue a wide variety of courses, including business courses in accounting and management. In contrast, the Australian VET sector currently has only a very limited capacity to provide degrees or to facilitate students' access to degree qualifications at universities. As Miles and Rickert (2009: 17) further explain, Australian women's enrolments in VET also 'remain clustered in narrow and traditional fields of study [such as hairdressing and childcare]'.

The OECD (2008b: 87-88) describes the Canadian college system as contributing to a system of post-school education that is 'more flexible and more needoriented than in countries where universities dominate'. Its role, which extends beyond vocational education, enables it to offer a range of qualifications that are likely to have some labour market value to women. As such, the Canadian approach to post-school education potentially improves young women's social and economic outcomes in ways not currently achieved in Australia. In turn, this implies that comparisons of approaches to and outcomes from post-school education in the two countries are likely to be particularly useful for policy development in Australia.

The current article contributes evidence for this comparison by making use of two longitudinal databases--the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) and the Canadian Youth in Transition Survey (YITS). The statistical analysis compares the attractiveness of Australian VET to different groups of Australian female school leavers with the attractiveness of college education to their Canadian counterparts. Through this analysis, the characteristics of young women participating in the 'second tier' of post-school education in each country are identified. This enables us to comment on the opportunities provided to different groups of young women in each country and to suggest directions for future policy on post-school education in Australia.

2. Data and Approach

The similarities in the purpose, timing and design of the LSAY and the YITS have resulted in a unique and rich resource for comparing the post-school education choices of young people in the two countries. …

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