A Five Year Analysis of Student Sentiment in Australia (2017 – 2021)

Claudia Reiners
May 31, 2022

A Five Year Analysis of Student Sentiment in Australia (2017 – 2021)

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

The release of our 2021 student sentiment data saw prospective students’ urgency to study decline. The lingering effects of the pandemic, in combination with the changing ways of work, have impacted prospective students’ confidence and motivation to study.

This five-year report analyses how student sentiment has changed over the past five years, and what trends may arise.

A snapshot of the past five years

  • Before the pandemic, students’ motivation and urgency to study have been largely static at a national level.

  • The pandemic heightened domestic students’ urgency to enrol, with young people accounting for the majority of the enrolment volumes during this time.

  • Prospective students ranked study further down in the agenda in 2022. Although travel and socialisation will dominate plans this year, study is not off the cards permanently.

How we measure student sentiment

In 2016, we noticed a demand for prospective student data – education providers, industry bodies and governments wanted to understand prospective students’ motivations, goals and behaviours. 

Designed to meet these demands, our Student Sentiment Index measures four key areas:

1. Urgency to commence study within a 3 or 12-month period
2. Motivation to enrol and continue studying throughout the lifetime of their course
3. Confidence in the teaching capabilities of our sector
4. Dependency on government-funded courses, grants and initiatives

Together, our data enables us to paint a holistic picture of how likely prospective students’ are to enrol, and how environmental, social and political changes impact their decision to study.

Key themes from our Index

Short courses and micro-credentials on the rise

Our sentiment data shows some interesting trends at a program level. 

Interest and enrolments in all course types – postgraduate, undergraduate, diplomas, certificates and short courses – were stable between 2017 and 2019. However, this trend was disrupted by the pandemic in 2020 and again in late 2021. 

Postgraduate enrolments increased in 2020, before dropping significantly in 2021 (31% and 24%). The decreased demand for postgraduate degrees – the preferred choice for study for middle-aged learners – most likely resulted from workers losing jobs, extending or changing careers. 

In the more recent years, we have seen micro-credentials and other forms of short courses rise in popularity. Interest in micro-credentials, subject bundles and non-accredited training increased from 4% in 2020 to 9% in 2021. 

With changes to how we work and the release of the National Micro-credentials Framework, we can only expect interest and enrolments in the short course sector to increase further.

Intake of government-funded courses to remain competitive

Sensitivity to government-funded courses peaked in March 2020, before declining in 2021.

As expected, the pandemic had a devastating financial impact on our workforce. Lay-offs, redundancies, and unemployment rates all contributed to higher economic anxiety and stress, leading to increased dependency on government-funded courses in 2020. 

However, as more workers returned to work and unemployment rates reached an all-time low, we saw sensitivity to government-funded programs ease. 

While financial anxiety may not be as high as in 2020, we should expect to see reliance on funded education continue.

No clear timelines for study – travel to be a priority

Despite stability pre-COVID, prospective students’ motivation and urgency to enrol were notably more volatile in 2020 and 2021. 

In 2020, 73% of prospective students answered they were likely to enrol in a course within three months – the highest recorded between 2017 and 2021. However, in 2021, only 63% was recorded.

Following a similar trend, 79% of prospective students answered they were likely to enrol in a course within 12 months. This volume also dropped to 71% in 2021.

Looking at the bigger picture, only 60% of respondents stated they had a clear timeline of when they wanted to study. 

With travel restrictions lifted, it’s no surprise that education has dropped on the priority list. 

Looking beyond COVID, the appetite for travel is strong. New research shows that over 90% of Australians are expected to travel within the next two years. Holiday companies are also reporting booking rises – particularly for international travel– in 2022. 

All this means is that study will be further down the agenda this year – but not off the cards permanently. Travel and socialisation will dominate most plans this year but this trend is expected to reset next year.

Training providers aren’t meeting learners’ expectations

Students believe the standard of education and training in Australia is falling. 

Prospective students are becoming increasingly concerned about not finding the right course for their training needs. Only 54% of students were confident they could find a course to suit their study and career goals in 2021 – a noticeable change from the 61% in 2020. 

Additionally, students believe the teaching capabilities in Australia are getting worse. When prompted to evaluate the effectiveness of our teaching staff, 17% of students believe training is getting worse. Confidence in course outcomes dropped from 96% in 2020 to 86% in 2021. 

Looking forward, we hope to see more scope in subject areas and program levels. As training demands also pivot, we hope to see more short courses and micro-credentials be made available to students in the near future. 

The impact on education and training providers

Despite prospective students reporting lower intent to study, we noticed fairly stable demand across our Education Marketplaces. For most industries, students were still interested in studying – they just needed more assurance before committing.

Education providers hoping to maintain enrolment volumes and ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) will need to diversify their attention. The priority moving forward will be on converting student leads, improving the learner experience and driving completion rates.

Robust nurture funnels and user experience will critical to boosting enrolment volumes this year and next. Enrolment cycles may be extended as students take time to consume more informational content and ultimately make the decision to study.

It’s clear dramatic shifts in student sentiment have changed how we approach domestic student recruitment.

If you’re curious about how to best optimise your digital marketing channels and increase conversions, get in touch with our team.

With over 140 education providers on our network and excellent ROMI, we’re well positioned to help providers adapt to this changing student recruitment landscape.

COVID-19 will continue to disrupt student sentiment across urgency, confidence and motivation to study.

While the urgency to study is declining this year, we expect it to pick back up in 2023. Furthermore, as new policies, methodologies and reforms roll out across our education sector, we believe students’ confidence in our training capabilities will also increase.

Catch-up on our 2021 Student Sentiment article here.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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