Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Risks of University for Low SES Young People

Associate Professor Maria Raciti,
University of the Sunshine Coast)
Secondary school students from low SES backgrounds, and the parents, have been found to be more risk averse than their peers in deciding if they should go to university (Raciti, 2019). This was based on a national survey of more than a thousand people. While this result is well researched, I don't agree with the researchers recommendations for changing these student's minds about attending university. The student's fears are well founded. Convincing students to attend university, rather than undertake vocational education and training (VET), may not only be against the interest of those individual students, but also costing the community more, and harming the Australian economy.

The risks from attending university for low SES students are very real, and not going to university straight out of school is a rational choice. Rather than try to convince students to make the risky choice of university first, I suggest we need to change the educational system to support students, regardless of SES status, to all consider vocational education before university. This is a much safer option for low SES students. Students who choose VET first are making a smaller investment in education, in terms of time and money, with more secure employment prospects. These students can attend university later, for further qualifications. This approach benefits not just low SES students, as older more mature people, with work experience, make better university students.

At present, VET is considered a poor second choice: what those who can't get into university do.  That could be changed by promoting integrated VET studies in schools, and by fixing the current broken VET funding model. Government funding can also be changed to encourage universities to better integrate with VET.

The ten risks for students identified in Professor Raciti's  study were:
  1. Functional and future work risk 
  2. Financial and resource risk
  3. Psychological risk
  4. Social risk
  5. Time-loss risk
  6. Physical and wellbeing risk
  7. Social class identity risk
  8. Opportunity cost
  9. Competency risk
  10. Overall risk
As someone from a low SES background, and a first in family university generation, I can identify with those risks.


Raciti M. M. (2019). Career Construction, Future Work and the Perceived Risks of Going to University for Young People from low SES Backgrounds: Research Fellowship Final Report, Perth: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

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