A Look at IT and Engineering Enrolments In Australia – Updated!

In 2015, we released a blog post that looked at enrolment trends in Information Technology and Engineering courses. We were motivated to do this due to the introduction of the new Digital Technologies learning area within the Australian Curriculum, and the belief that despite Digital Technologies and associated industries representing 16% of the Australian GDP, that Higher Education struggles to attract students to consider computing pathways.

We explored Australian enrolment trends in Information Technology (IT), including programs in Computer Science, Information Technology and Information Systems, identifying that at that time enrolments in IT programs were relatively stable after a significant drop starting in 2002.

Over the past four years, we have observed, at our own institution, significant increases in enrolments in our programs, and so we wanted to revisit this data as a discipline across Australia. We discuss this in more detail below, however in summary, we can see that IT enrolments overall, including domestic and international students, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, are showing signs of recent recovery, increasing from relatively stable enrolments around 50,000 over the period 2007 to 2012, to just over 60,000 in 2015. (An increase of 23.52% from the lowest enrolment point in 2008).

There have been significant efforts within Australia over recent years to grow IT enrolments, with many institutions and industry leaders starting outreach initiatives designed to encourage students to study IT, increase diversity, and to build awareness of the range and richness of IT careers. The key target demographic for these efforts is domestic undergraduate students, and so we have extended our analysis to explore trends in this cohort. While we have seen an overall increase in enrolments in IT programs, this increase is even more prominent when we look at commencing domestic undergraduate student numbers, showing an increase of 67.9% over the period 2008-2015. While this is indeed promising, when we explore this more fully, we can see a worrying difference by gender, with male enrolments increasing by 73.49% but female enrolments increasing by only 40.51% over the same period. We can see that we still have considerable work ahead of us to achieve gender equity in our field, and to increase diversity in our intake.

Let’s now look at this data in more detail.

What are the statistics for Australian enrolments in Computing and Engineering courses? Have there been any changes in enrolments over time?

As last time, we use open source Government data* (uCube) about Higher Education enrolments to explore IT and Engineering (and related technologies) enrolments over time. The current dataset ranges from 2001 to 2015.

First, let’s look at IT and Engineering enrolments in comparison to other discipline areas. The graph below presents all Australian Higher Education enrolments across a number of key fields for from 2001 to 2015 (including domestic and international, and undergraduate and postgraduate). IT enrolments reached their peak in 2002 (79,026 enrolments), plunged to their lowest point of 49,195 in 2008, before stabilising at around 50,000 students. However, since 2013 we have seen a steady increase in enrolments, reaching 60,769 in 2015, an increase of 23.52% over 2008 figures.

Since 2001, enrolments in Engineering (and related technologies) have seen a steady increase through to 2015, moving from 58,330 to 106,283 students. However, both still stand in stark contrast to a number of other discipline areas, with Management and Commerce, Society and Culture and Health having high and increasing enrolments.

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We can see the recent increases in IT enrolments more clearly by examining the percentage change in enrolments by year, where we can observe the dramatic drop commencing in 2003, tapering off from 2006, and then a transition to a positive trend from 2013.

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Female participation in IT fields is typically very low within Australia. In our updated analysis, we can see increases in both female and male enrolments in IT corresponding to the overall increases in the period 2013-2015, with female enrolments increasing from a relatively stable point of just under 10,000 female enrolments (2007-2013) to 11,506 in 2015. Enrolments in Engineering (and related Technologies) continue to grow for both groups. If we look at the percentage change (from previous year) the degree of change becomes more apparent. Interestingly, the initial decline in participation in IT programs from 2003 appears to have been more significant for female students, however their rate of increase now appears to be relatively consistent across the cohort.

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Percentage change from previous year by gender


To better understand the magnitude of the increase in IT enrolments, we explore next commencing enrolments for IT programs. The figure below shows the percentage difference (from previous year) of commencing IT enrolments, which rose in total from our lowest point of 18,319 in 2007 to 24,340 in 2015, an increase of 25.54%. We can see that we had a consistent negative trend in enrolments, corresponding to our overall drop from 2002 from 2002 to 2006, however from this point enrolments have tended (with an exception in 2010) towards a positive trend.

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Percentage change from previous year - IT commencing students


The Australian University community and IT sector have invested significantly in (primarily) domestic outreach programs over recent years to promote the importance and excitement of IT-based careers, and also to encourage diversity in our intake. For this reason, we are specifically interested in data corresponding to our domestic, commencing undergraduate enrolments. Here we can see an overall steady increase in commencing domestic undergraduate enrolment figures from our lowest point in 2008 of 5,569 to 9,504 in 2015, an increase of 67.9%. Female enrolment figures increased from the 965 in the same year (2008) to 1,356 in 2015, an increase of 40.5%. (The lowest female enrolment figure is actually 2010, with 946 enrolments, giving a 43.34% from this point), demonstrating that while IT enrolment figures are increasing, female enrolments figures are still lagging overall.

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Commencing domestic IT enrolments


We can explore more detail on these increases by exploring the percentage change (from previous year) over this period, demonstrating that while lagging overall, the percentage change roughly follows the same trend.

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Percentage change from previous year - IT domestic commencing students by gender


At the University of Adelaide, we have observed further increases in enrolments in IT programs in 2016 and 2017. We will be revisiting this data again later this year when 2016 figures are released to see whether this trend continues across Australia.[white space]Fo

*Notes about the Australian Data:

  1. Source: Department of Education and Training – Higher Education Statistics Data Cube (uCube) which is based on the student and staff data collections.
  2. The data cube allows customised tables to be produced with cells containing very small counts. Therefore, to avoid any risk of disseminating identifiable data, a disclosure control technique called input perturbation has been applied to the data, whereby small random adjustments are made to cell counts. These adjustments (otherwise known as noise) allow for a greater amount of detailed data to be released, and, as they are small, do not impair the utility of the tabular data at broad levels. The relative impact of perturbation is larger for small cell counts, which therefore should be used with caution.
  3. For Field of Education: The data takes into account the coding of Combined Courses to two fields of education. As a consequence, counting both fields of education for Combined Courses means that the totals may be less than the sum of all broad fields of education.
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