Category: Student Sentiment Index
A Five Year Analysis of Student Sentiment in Australia (2017 – 2021)
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
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.
Student Sentiment Post-COVID: ‘Urgency to Study at an All Time Low’
Career aspirations and motivations have changed dramatically over recent years. The urgency to study is now at an all-time low.
Our latest student sentiment study found that COVID-19 has taken a substantial toll on learners’ academic progress and their ambition. The shockwaves felt throughout 2020 have severely impacted prospective students’ confidence, urgency, and motivation to study.
What is our Student Sentiment Index?
Our Student Sentiment Index examines the attitudes prospective learners have towards commencing study.
Our technology enables us to identify prospective students’ urgency and motivation to study, their sensitivity to funding, and their confidence in our sector. As a result, we can measure the direct impacts of economic, social and political factors – such as those created by the pandemic – on the health of our education and training sector.
Our 2021-22 Student Sentiment study unpacks the lingering impacts of the impact and how prospective students are feeling a year later.
Below, we unpack key themes from this year’s Index.
Study may not be on the agenda this year
At the start of the pandemic, we saw thousands of prospective students turn to education to upskill, career change or return to work. However, the generic sentiment toward training post-COVID was the opposite.
When asked what role education will play in their lives, only 71% of prospective learners stated they were considering studying within the next 12 months. This figure stood at 79% in 2020.
The downward trend seems to indicate that study is no longer the highest priority for Australians this year.
As domestic and international borders reopen, the travel that had been postponed is now back on the cards. We see young people shifting their attention from employment back to travel.
The trend to prioritise travel and leisure is not unwarranted. The nature of the past two years has created a culture of burnout and stress among learners and workers.
Learners are experiencing extreme fatigue, anxiety and mental scarring from remote learning, job losses and isolation.
Similarly, emerging technology and remote working has created a need for workers to ‘always be on’ and accessible 24/7. This way of thinking has created an unbalanced employee work-life ratio, heightening feelings of burnout and stress.
As borders open and socialisation is available again, we may see more Australians prioritise their mental health and leisure over education and training.
Lower sentiment to study but particular industries are booming
Our sentiment data found that workers and high-school leavers are not looking to study within the next three months. The percentage of learners looking to commence study within three months dropped from 73% in 2020 to 63% in 2021.
While this decline is the opposite of what we saw in 2020, it isn’t surprising.
According to the Australian Financial Review, university applications in 2022 dropped dramatically, with the biggest decline originating from the non-school leaver cohort.
Kim Paino from the Universities Admissions Centre said that the decline was no surprise given the heated jobs market.
“There’s a consistent trend showing reduced demand for study when employment prospects are high,” said Paino.
The obvious exceptions are apprenticeships and traineeships – where we have seen an increase in both enrolments and completions. Apprenticeships enable learners to complete their training while working – fulfilling the employment ecosystem.
Although the increase in apprenticeships in 2020 and 2021 is largely due to the government-funded wage subsidy scheme, which saw employers receive a 50% subsidy for each first-year apprentice they took on, our data suggests apprenticeship enrolments and completions will continue to rise.
Despite lower sentiment to study, some industries such as real estate, allied health, data analytics and software engineering continue to be in demand – with enquiries and enrolment volumes reflective of this.
Low confidence in training scope and outcomes
According to prospective learners, Australia’s standard of education and training is falling behind.
Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 6% increase in students who believed training standards in Australia were getting worse. In 2021, only 86% of learners were confident study would help them reach their career goals – a large cry from the 96% we saw in 2020.
The biggest contributing factor to this is the lack of course scope, accredited and unaccredited. Learners ranked their confidence in finding a course suitable for their training needs low.
Furthermore, students’ confidence in completing courses fell dramatically in the latter half of 2021. They were not optimistic about their ability to complete their study and achieve all learning outcomes.
Common reasons cited were:
In the TEQSA study, students also reported difficulty navigating the transition to remote learning and managing their workload.
Following the extensive research conducted by the government and industry bodies, we can expect significant changes to training quality this year. The Federal, State and Territory Governments have all been vocal in their promises to prioritise learner wellbeing and improve the overall experience for domestic learners.
Postgraduate qualifications are being replaced by micro-credentials
Despite being on the up with domestic demand for university-run postgraduate courses almost doubling in 2020, postgraduate qualifications may no longer have a place in our future.
Last year, interest in postgraduate qualifications dipped 7%, while diplomas and undergraduate programs remained largely unchanged. Certificates and shorter, non-accredited training, such as micro-credentials, were the only two qualification types that saw increased interest.
This is mostly attributed to the growing number of employers seeking informal or ad hoc training to combat internal skills shortages and tight labour market conditions.
In a study by the AI group, nearly half (48%) of Australia’s chief executives plan on spending more on training and development this year. 58% of executives placed staff training and development at the top of their business investment list – ranking it as a first or second priority.
In 2021, 52% of employers provided unaccredited training to their employees, with many choosing unaccredited training over accredited training as it was more cost-effective and tailored to their needs.
The short courses and micro-credentials trend is only projected to increase given the Australian Government’s sizable investment in micro-credentials through its National Micro-credentials Framework and Micro-credentials Online Marketplace.
With urgency and motivation to study low, we will see workers and employers being more particular about when and how they approach training and development.
For those who provide training in Australia, the good news is that, although there is lower intent to study, completion rates have remained stable. So moving forward, the priority for education providers will be to nurture their learners through to completion.
This article is the latest addition to our 2021 Student Sentiment Index series. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest insights.
COVID-19 and Student Sentiment in 2020 – A Handbook for Education Providers
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions caused widespread economic disruption and volatility.
These impacts – mass job losses, heightened financial stress, travel restrictions and more – have placed an enormous strain on Australians, resulting in turbulent student attitudes and behaviours in 2020.
Explore our findings from our 2020 Student Sentiment Index.
Key takeaways from our 2020 Student Sentiment Index
Explore our 2020 publications
Each year, we publish a series of articles that unpack our Student Sentiment Index in more depth. These articles delve into each sub-index, providing a greater scope of insights for stakeholders.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Women’s Employment and Education
How has the pandemic disrupted women’s work and education opportunities?
Young People, COVID-19 and its Toll on Study
How have mass job losses, travel restrictions and mental health concerns impacted young Australians and their education goals?
Australia’s Response to National Education Funding Schemes
Have mass lay-offs and increased financial vulnerability made Australians more sensitive to government funding schemes?
How the pandemic changed the education industry
The Australian tertiary education sector generates $30 billion of export income and over 4 million enrolments in any given year.
The COVID-19 outbreak brought unprecedented challenges for our nation’s third-largest export industry. Education institutions faced disruptions, such as:
The pandemic-induced restrictions and lockdowns significantly impacted the volume of domestic and international student enrolments in 2020.
PWC estimates the 2020 loss of international student income is as high as $4 billion, with additional indirect economic impacts to tourism and consumer spending. Universities alone are predicted to lose $16 billion in revenue by 2023 due to the pandemic.
Finding solutions to the challenges our education sectors now face is front of mind. Our governments recognise the integral role of education in reviving our economy. In 2020, the Federal Government invested in several initiatives to bolster our domestic education and training sector capabilities.
It is expected our governments will continue to prioritise workforce education and training in the years to come – the extension to the JobTrainer and free TAFE schemes in 2021 affirming this.
How are students feeling?
The pandemic caused student sentiment to waver. Prospective students displayed more unstable attitudes and behaviours towards commencing study in 2020 than any other year.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 112,000 fewer students enrolled in tertiary education in May 2020 than the previous year.
Historical student enrolment and sentiment trends are no longer representative of the current state of our sector. External factors like job losses and heightened financial stress triggered a shift in prospective students. They no longer perceive and react to study opportunities in the same way.
At Candlefox, we love data. Understanding student sentiment and how it translates to enrolment rates are a fundamental part of what we do.
As the pandemic unfolded, we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how it was impacting specific student segments and whether it influenced their degree of optimism or enthusiasm to study.
We collected Australian students’ attitudes and behaviours through our Student Sentiment Index. This index explored prospective students’:
The data from our four-indices – Sensitivity to Funding, Urgency, Motivation and Confidence – enabled us to critically analyse and report on how COVID-19 uniquely impacted the mindsets, attitudes and behaviours of students in 2020.
Key themes from our Index
1. On average, women had lower motivation and urgency to study than men.
The impacts of COVID-19 were highly gendered, with women experiencing job instability, financial insecurity and increased domestic responsibilities. It is reported that 55% of the 600,000 jobs lost in April of 2020 were held by women – more than double those lost by men.
These factors have triggered unpredictable enrolment behaviours and attitudes among women.
In 2020, women demonstrated lower urgency to commence study, despite previously representing a greater percentage of the university cohort. Women’s enrolment in tertiary education dropped by 7% compared to a much lower 2% for men in May 2020.
Interestingly, more women enrolled in higher education than men pre-COVID-19, with 60% of new enrolments in 2019 being female.
Despite low urgency and motivation to study, women were far more sensitive to the availability (or lack) of education funding than men. The pink recession heavily affected women’s financial stability, resulting in more women unable to study without funding support.
2. Despite an initial spike at the start of the pandemic, young peoples’ urgency, motivation and confidence dropped significantly in the latter half of the year.
Young people, aged 18 to 24, felt the effects of the pandemic the hardest.
Disruptions to international travel and lockdown restrictions forced young people to pivot their short-term plans and take up domestic study instead.
Our Index recorded an initial spike in student interest with higher urgency, motivation and confidence reported in March 2020. However, the positivity and enthusiasm to study declined as the pandemic continued.
Young Australians withdrew their confidence and motivation to study when tertiary institutions pivoted to online learning. The rapid transition to online learning was not well received amongst learners, with only 78% of Gen Z students feeling confident about online learning in universities.
Up to 50% of university students reported having a negative online learning experience, citing lack of engagement, isolation from peers, and technology issues as some of the top reasons why.
3. There has been a national increase in students’ sensitivity to education and training funding initiatives.
Without a doubt, the pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on Australia. Individuals experienced higher stress and anxiety due to:
These factors have contributed to heightened financial concerns and anxiety. Australians were more concerned about their finances in 2020 than in 2019. Close to 800,000 people lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic, with 30% of Australians feeling financially stressed as a result.
Financial instability prompted individuals to seek out more cost-effective education options.
This was confirmed through our Sensitivity to Funding Index. Prospective students were shown to be more sensitive to government funding schemes and were more likely to undertake education if it was financially supported.
To combat rising unemployment rates and meet the demands of the future of work, the Australian Government launched various initiatives – including JobTrainer, free TAFE and Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements – to help train, upskill or reskill Australians.
Ongoing government funding will be key to future-proofing Australia’s workforce and strengthening its post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
How stakeholders can use and apply our Student Sentiment insights?
The Student Sentiment is highly valuable to all operating in the education industry. Our data unpacked how prospective students – regardless of age, gender and location – reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it changed their enrolment attitudes and behaviours.
Our Index will continue to deliver benefits for a range of education stakeholders, including policy developers, industry and research bodies. These insights provide stakeholders with credible, real time insights into the health of our sector, useful for identifying areas of concern or improvement.
Recommendations for education providers
The Index provides the most value and opportunity for education institutions in Australia. Here are several actionable recommendations for providers:
Promote government-funded programs.
The Federal Government has extended national funding initiatives such as JobTrainer, free TAFE and the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme.
Our Index has indicated that prospective students are in higher financial stress and therefore more reliant on funding to pursue study in the months or years to come.
There is an opportunity for providers to take advantage of these funding schemes and market government-assisted courses more heavily to prospective students – generating more student interest and boosting enrolments.
Encourage more women to return to study.
Women have had arguably a worse year than males, with a significant drop in enrolment numbers. Providers can tailor their marketing and sales strategy to encourage more women to enrol in a course or program in 2021 to help diversify our workforce and ensure equal gender representation in workplaces.
Strategies can include making government funding more accessible to women, removing the stigma around male-dominated programs and increasing engagement through student experience.
Create meaningful student experiences, even online.
There’s no doubt the student learning experience plays an integral role in education retention rates. It can single-handedly determine whether a student continues their program through to graduation.
As education campuses open and traditional classes resume, many institutions are offering a blended mode of learning. Regardless of whether providers offer traditional or e-learning, it’s essential to continue to provide resources and initiatives to encourage and support students during their education journey.
Australia’s Response to National Education Funding Schemes – Unpacking Student Sentiment in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating financial impact on Australia, characterised by mass job losses and heightened financial anxiety.
In 2020, our Student Sentiment Index revealed that prospective students displayed a higher sensitivity to funding arrangements, indicating they were less likely to pursue study without financial support.
This article will explore the Sensitivity to Funding Index in more depth. In particular, why some student segments were more reliant on funding arrangements than others.
Students are becoming more reliant on government funding
Our Sensitivity to Funding Index measured the financial status of prospective students and how it influenced their decisions to study in 2020. It deep-dived into these students’ appetite for government-funded education programs and how it influenced enrolment behaviours.
Our Index found that:
Most states displayed a heightened sensitivity to funding in March and June 2020
The Index revealed that the majority of Australia’s states (Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) displayed a similar response at the start of the pandemic, with individuals located in these states observing a higher sensitivity to funding in March 2020 (figure 1).
During this time, we saw nationwide lockdowns and mass job losses. 780,000 people lost their jobs in the week following the announcement of local and national restrictions.
In this time of job insecurity and financial distress, Australians became more concerned about their finances. 30% of Australians felt financially stressed as a direct result of the pandemic and 48% expect the next few years to be financially difficult – these figures indicating the availability of funding was a priority for prospective students.
Another spike in sensitivity to funding was observed in June 2020 (figure 2). This can be attributed to the announcement of national funding initiatives, including:
Australians responded eagerly to these funding schemes, with Victorian Free TAFE alone being 83% higher in January 2021 than the same time last year.
Women are more sensitive to funding than men
Women were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, facing higher job losses and greater caring responsibilities at home. This pink recession left women financially worse off and more sensitive to the availability (or lack) of education funding.
It’s reported that 55% of the 600,000 jobs lost in April of 2020 were held by women, with 8% of Australian women losing their jobs compared to just 4% of men. 80% of women also did more unpaid domestic work during the pandemic, compared to 39% of men.
With this loss of income, women were less likely to pursue study unless they received financial support. We see this through the number of female enrolments in higher education – women accounting for 75% of the overall student decline.
The Sensitivity to Funding Index (figure 3) also reveals that women were consistently 5% more sensitive than men to the availability of funding when considering educational opportunities.
This problem is further compounded by the Government’s support of male-dominated fields. The majority of ‘high priority’ occupations defined in the National Skills Shortage List are in the male-dominated industries of trades, technology and engineering.
Young and older people displayed the highest financial dependency at the start of the pandemic
Although all age groups experienced an increase in sensitivity to funding in 2020, this increase was not felt equally across all age groups.
Young people aged 18 to 24 displayed the highest spike in sensitivity, particularly at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 (figure 4). This can be attributed to higher rates of unemployment, low wages and higher costs of living.
Interestingly, 63% of young people reported high levels of financial stress. Nearly one in three workers aged between 18 and 24 lost their jobs between March and April of 2020. Additionally, many young people were unable to secure permanent work upon graduation, prompting them to consider further study only if it was available and affordable.
On the other side of the age spectrum, individuals aged 45 and older expressed a similar trend to young people. They displayed an abnormally high sensitivity to funding in March 2020 as shown in figure 3. This can be attributed to older individuals holding better financial positions prior to COVID-19, suggesting they were able to undertake study without government assistance. However as the pandemic progressed, a greater proportion of 45 to 65 year olds reported feeling less financially comfortable.
For those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic or felt their role was insecure, the availability of government funding became more important in helping them return to paid work. These insights reveal that Australians of all age groups are eager to obtain the skills necessary to secure work or pivot to emerging professions, with funding being key to this.
COVID-19 and its influence on Australia’s education sector
2020 was a turbulent year for Australians, with shifting attitudes to education and training as a result. The volatility of our labour market pushed a third of Australians to upskill or reskill to remain employed and competitive in the workforce.
The pandemic triggered the first Australian recession in 30 years, skyrocketing unemployment rates to 6.9%. State and Federal Governments responded by bolstering support for education and training, announcing several funding initiatives such as JobTrainer, Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements and Free TAFE.
These initiatives increased access to training for thousands of workers displaced or impacted by the pandemic. Prospective students are now able to access free or low fee (concession) qualifications, relieving financial hardship for those looking to upskill or reskill.
Long-term, these schemes will:
Prospective students from all walks of life demonstrated greater dependency on government funding in 2020. Job insecurity and financial difficulties prompted many to pursue upskilling and reskilling in the most cost-effective way possible. Some discrepancies can be seen within the student population, with women and young people being more sensitive to the availability of funding schemes.
Ongoing government funding seems to be key to future-proofing Australia’s workforce and strengthening its economy.
This article is the latest addition to our 2020 Student Sentiment Index series. To keep up to date with the latest insights, subscribe to our newsletter.
Young People, COVID-19 and its Toll on Study – Unpacking Student Sentiment in 2020
The global pandemic has taken a heavy toll on people from all walks of life – particularly young people between 18 and 24.
These individuals faced a unique set of challenges in 2020. Mass job losses, travel restrictions, and heightened mental health concerns are just some of the difficulties affecting young Australians’ educational and career goals.
We’ve unpacked both our owned data and credible sources to better understand this global crisis and how it has prompted higher urgency to study amongst younger people but lower confidence in our education sector.
Measuring the impact of COVID-19 on young people
Instead of exciting milestones like travelling the world and pursuing higher education, young Australians faced obstacles like mass job losses, travel restrictions, and declining health. The impact of 2020 has left a mark on young people, spurring unpredictable enrolment behaviours.
Our Student Sentiment Index measured the attitudes and behaviours of prospective students in 2020. We discovered that younger individuals:
Young people had higher sensitivity to funding than other age groups
With this increased financial difficulty in 2020, young people – those between the ages of 18 and 35 – have become much more sensitive to funding. This means they are more likely to rely on government assistance or other funding schemes in order to commence or return to study.
This trend is best captured by our Student Sensitivity to Funding Index, where these individuals displayed a higher average of reliance on funding schemes than any other age bracket (figure 1).
The struggles of stagnant wages and high living costs have only accelerated in the wake of the pandemic. Australia entered the COVID-19 pandemic with a youth unemployment rate of 11.6% in December 2019. While strategies have been put in place to minimise widespread economic impacts, this rate rose to 15.8% in July 2020.
Young people are more heavily represented in highly affected sectors like hospitality, retail, tourism and the arts, and also more likely to hold casual work and lack paid leave. Almost one in three (28%) workers aged 18 to 24 lost their jobs between March and April of 2020. Even after eased lockdown measures, the employment rate of young Australians still lingered at 60%.
With such enormous job losses come financial stress. Statistics show 63% of young people who lost their job due to the pandemic reported higher levels of financial stress. 57% Gen Z reported that they were living from paycheck to paycheck between March and June of 2020.
This financial stress saw many young people withdraw money from their superannuation — 61% of early superannuation withdrawals were by individuals aged between 20 and 30.
Young people held the highest urgency at the beginning of the pandemic
COVID-19 forced young people to pivot their short-term plans – severe travel restrictions and lockdowns causing mass cancellations of gap years and working holidays. These waylaid plans forced young people to turn to study, spurring a higher urgency to commence study in March (figure 2).
Young Australians ranked travel as being more important to them than study and work. This, paired with the national jobs shortage, meant thousands of young people had to seek new goals or pathways. For many, the answer was education.
In New South Wales alone, 14,669 high school leavers applied to start university in 2021 compared to just 7,824 at that time last year.
This was reflected in the Student Urgency Index, with people aged 18 to 24 demonstrating the biggest spike in urgency at the start of the pandemic as they sought new pathways.
Young people showed an initial spike in confidence in March followed by a sharp decline in April
In Australia, students generally commence their tertiary studies in late February and early March. In any ‘normal’ year, it is expected that these individuals would feel a greater degree of confidence and hope during this time.
However, this trend was not repeated in 2020. Young Australians displayed an initial burst of confidence in March, but this quickly declined when they began to feel the full impact of the pandemic.
We were able to validate this trend by comparing 2019 and 2020 data from our Student Confidence Index. As seen in figure 3, young Australians initially displayed high confidence in February 2020, this rapidly declined in March (figure 3).
Following the closures of campuses, tertiary institutions were forced to pivot to online learning. This rapid transition caused student confidence and hopes to plummet drastically. The pivot to online learning was not well received amongst learners, with only 78% of Gen Z students feeling confident about the use of online learning in universities.
Up to 50% of university students as a whole reported having a negative online learning experience, citing lack of engagement, isolation from peers, and technology issues as some of the top reasons why.
This lack of confidence also carried through into young people’s future plans. Half of the individuals in this cohort felt that the pandemic negatively affected their confidence in achieving future goals. The most common reasons for feeling this way included concerns about job insecurity (21%) and study-related concerns (23%).
This lack of confidence isn’t without good reason — experts say young people will suffer from a phenomenon called scarring, which can affect motivation, skills, connections and their climb up the jobs ladder.
Motivation among young people rose in March and dropped significantly in April
The Motivation Index indicated that young people held higher motivation and enthusiasm to study in March 2020 compared to 2019. However despite this initial spike at the start of the pandemic, motivation among young people to commence study dropped significantly afterwards (figure 4).
Two-thirds of young people reported that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their education and training. The effects of this can be seen in the enrolment behaviour of young people – enrolments for 20 to 24 year olds dropped by 66,100 in 2020 compared to 2019, indicating low motivation and high uncertainty.
This lack of motivation can be attributed to two key factors:
1. Poor online learning experience
With the rapid implementation of online learning across schools and universities, many students were left feeling dissatisfied and unmotivated. 41% of students complained about technology issues, 34% felt there was a lack of academic interaction, and 29% experienced a lack of engagement.
2. Mental health struggles
With so many things happening in a young person’s life, remaining motivated to study can be a challenge. Almost three-quarters of young people reported that their mental health had worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19, while more than half said they felt less optimistic about the future. Young people were also worried about their futures, with their top concerns being job prospects (21%), education 23%), general mental wellbeing (15%) and delayed plans (17%).
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected young people’s goals, plans and behaviours towards study. This can be reflected in their greater sensitivity to funding, greater urgency, lower confidence, and lower motivation towards study.
This is set to have long-lasting ramifications, with thousands of young Australians trying to navigate uncharted territory.
This article is the latest addition to our 2020 Student Sentiment Index series. To keep up to date with the latest insights, subscribe to our newsletter.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Women’s Employment and Education – Unpacking Student Sentiment in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic reached every corner of the globe, touching the lives of billions in a way never seen before. While all have felt the impact, women have been disproportionately affected by the ensuing economic avalanche. These economic effects can be captured in one phrase: the pink recession.
The pink recession has delivered widespread financial insecurity and job instability, fuelling unpredictable enrolment behaviours amongst women.
This article uses both our owned data and other credible sources to unpack:
How COVID-19 triggered a pink recession
Women have been massively impacted by the pandemic. This has sparked a so-called pink recession, characterised by several socio-economic inconsistencies and inequalities.
1. Mass job losses.
Around 55% of the 600,000 jobs lost in April of 2020 were held by women. This equates to almost 8% of Australian women losing their jobs, compared to 4% of men. Women’s working hours also dropped by 12%, whilst men’s dropped to 7%.
This disparity is partly because more women work in the retail, hospitality, education and tourism sectors – industries severely affected by government lockdowns. More women also hold casual employment than men (often due to greater responsibilities at home), making them more vulnerable to lay-offs during crises.
2. Increased household and care responsibilities.
Even prior to the pandemic, women spent a greater amount of time on household responsibilities, domestic duties, and caring.
This discrepancy only worsened during the pandemic. The rise of remote learning and the scarcity of childcare services forced women to dedicate greater time and energy to their children and household. During the pandemic, 80% of women reported that they did most of the unpaid domestic work, compared to 39% of men.
There were 400,000 fewer women in the labour force – defined as those working or actively looking for work – in May of 2020 compared to February. This reveals that many women are not even in the position to look for work due to their household duties.
3. Less government support for women-dominated industries.
The Federal Government’s recovery package allocated $27 billion towards male-dominated sectors like construction and energy – this amount surpassing all other sectors combined. In contrast, only $240 million were allocated to increasing women’s workforce participation.
Interestingly, for every million spent on education, 10.6 jobs are created for women. In comparison, for every million spent on construction only 0.2 jobs are created for women.
The pink recession has amplified existing labour market disadvantages, with women facing mass job losses, increased household responsibilities, and a lack of government funding. As a result, women will continue to experience reduced educational and work opportunities.
Women’s attitudes to study during and beyond COVID-19
With this information, women were expected to exhibit lower positivity and enthusiasm towards commencing study.
The data collected in real time from our Student Sentiment Index allowed us to validate this hypothesis. By measuring the degree of optimism – or lack thereof – prospective female students exhibit towards commencing study, we were able to critically examine how the global pandemic disproportionately impacted women in 2020.
We uncovered that women:
Women were overall more sensitive to funding than men
In 2020, the Sensitivity to Funding Index discovered that women were more likely to depend on financial aid to pursue tertiary education (figure 1).
This Index measures the dependency of prospective students on government funding and/or other arrangements – with a higher sensitivity indicating an individual is less likely to pursue study if they are not financially supported. These individuals are therefore more likely to miss out on the socio-economic benefits of achieving higher qualifications, while their peers advance up the ladder.
In 2020, we witnessed discrepancies when comparing different demographics’ sensitivity to funding. This revealed that women were consistently 5% more sensitive than men to the availability (or lack) of funding when considering educational opportunities.
With the ongoing impacts of the pink recession, many women were unable to afford to study without funding support, which in turn heightened funding sensitivity. In fact, women accounted for 75% of the overall student decline in higher education in 2020.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that government funding overwhelmingly supports male-dominated industries. For example, the Federal Government’s “High Priority” occupations, as defined in the National Skills Shortage List, are primarily within the male-dominated industries of trades, technology and engineering.
The Grattan Institute surmises that “funding is a contentious issue for prospective female students… (with) the difficulties around gender bias, the gender pay gap and female representation in the workforce throughout childbearing years” further compounding the issue.
Women displayed a lower sense of urgency to commence study
Throughout 2020, we witnessed women express a lower urgency to commence study, with the Student Urgency Index confirming these findings.
The Urgency Index discovered that women were less likely to commence study within the next 12 to 24 months (figure 2). This sense of urgency could be influenced by a number of factors, including:
Women’s enrolment in tertiary education dropped by 7% compared to 2% for men from May 2019 to May 2020. Pre-COVID-19, more women actually enrolled in higher education than men, with 60% of new enrolments in 2019 being female. Post-COVID-19 flipped this trend – enrolments for Australian men growing by 35,000.
This lack of urgency can be partly attributed to increased caring responsibilities. Women bear a disproportionate load when it comes to caring for children, elderly parents, or other loved ones. The demand for women to perform these duties has only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, squashing the urgency many women previously had towards their studies.
This lack of urgency is projected to stay long-term. Experts warn that delaying or stopping study for an extended period of time can hurt women’s future work opportunities and earnings, leaving them underqualified.
Women expressed lower motivation to study than men – a direct result of lower urgency to study and higher sensitivity to funding
Following a similar trend to the Urgency Index, women also displayed lower motivation to study than men – a finding validated by the Motivation Index (figure 3). Experts warn increased financial stress and job insecurity are to blame, causing women to shelve away their study ambitions.
In 2020, there were 86,000 fewer women in higher education compared to 2019. The number of men in higher education only dropped by 21,200. This represents the largest decrease in female participation since ABS records began in 2004.
The decline in female participation was particularly pronounced among women over 25, with the figure being almost 60,000. Interestingly, 26,000 more men over the age of 25 enrolled in studies during this time.
These stark figures indicate that tens of thousands of women have been forced to waylay their study plans due to:
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many existing inequalities between men and women in education and employment.
Despite our strong economic recovery, there will be long-term repercussions for women. Women will continue to demonstrate greater sensitivity to education funding, lower urgency and lower motivation to study. This decreased interest in education will pose significant risks for unemployed or underemployed women trying to re-enter the workforce post-COVID-19.
This article is the latest addition to our 2020 Student Sentiment Index series. To keep up to date with the latest insights, subscribe to our newsletter.