With increasing international students, Australian Universities are a hub of diversity and culture. But how diverse and inclusive are their communities?
Firstly, what actually is Diversity and Inclusivity?
The fact of many different types of things or people being included in something; a range of different things or people, for example different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders and nationalities.
The quality of trying to include many different types of people and cultures and treat them all fairly and equally.
There is more and more diversity and inclusiveness in the 42 universities spanning Australia. For example, the number of overseas students is growing a large amount every year, and the number of countries they come from is also increasing.
But in some ways (e.g. with Indigenous students, and students from poor families) universities in Australia are still not as broad and diverse as the general population and community, even though diversity is also increasing for these groups.
It is very important for universities to be diverse and inclusive because:
- It gives students from more parts of the community and different communities a much fairer and more equal opportunity to go to university, get a degree, job opportunities and careers.
- Having a bigger range of courses means students can have a much better chance of enrolling in the course they want to do, and entering a career in the trade or profession they want to follow.
- For better cultural exchange: it improves the cultural and social experience of going to university, and increases the sharing of ethnic cultures and practices. It builds better and deeper understanding between people of different countries and backgrounds of each other’s cultures and knowledge.
However, many Australian universities have a challenge of getting students from overseas to involve themselves and interact fully in university life. One reason for this is that many foreign students do not have good enough English language to easily interact socially with Australian students and other English-speaking students. Having better English language skills means you become much more involved in general activities and issues in University and community life, and can also study your courses more easily.
With some areas of diversity and inclusiveness – such as having Australian Indigenous students – the number of students, even though increasing, is still at a very low level, which is called ‘under-representation.’ This is compared to the percentage of Indigenous people in the Australian population, and compared to the enrolment of non-Indigenous Australians in University.
There are now several Australian government programs which assist students from various ‘under-represented’ groups to enrol in University. This has made university enrolment easier for students from Indigenous and poorer backgrounds; students from Australian towns and regions outside the cities; and students with a disability.
Some universities also have enrolment systems and streams which mean Indigenous students and other disadvantaged students can enrol with lower secondary school marks and academic records.
This also applies to many overseas students, and the very good standard of Australian universities and the encouragement of overseas students to come to Australia to study also means the number of overseas students has increased very quickly.
The different system Australian universities have for overseas students to pay the university fees also means the universities are very keen to have foreign students, as Universities get a very big income from hosting overseas students. In 2017, international students paid about A$7.5 billion in University fees.
The percentage of students who come from overseas is getting bigger and bigger too. In 2018, there were about 480,000 foreign students at Australian Universities. This was an 11% increase from 2017. In total, about 24% of students who study at Australian universities are from overseas.
The highest percentages of overseas students at particular universities were, in 2017, at:
- Bond University – 49%
- Australian National University – 39%
- University of Melbourne – 39%
- Sydney University – 38%
- University of New South Wales (UNSW) – 37%
- University of Queensland – 33.5%
- Monash University – 31%
- Macquarie – 26%
Diversity and Inclusiveness
Diversity and inclusiveness are increasing in many ways in Australian Universities.
From 2009 to 2019, there was a:
- 66% increase in students from low ‘Socio-Economic Status’ (poor) backgrounds
- 123% increase in students with a disability
- 50% increase in students from rural and remote parts of Australia
- 105% increase in the number of Indigenous Australian students (although this only represents about 1.7% of the number of domestic students at university)
Not only this, but there are students from more and more countries: In 2018, the 480,000 overseas students were from more than 170 countries. Many were from China (158,000 students), India (70,000), with Malaysia (30,000), Singapore (28,000) and Nepal (27,000) amongst others.
There is also very positive gender diversity – 58% of all domestic students enrolled in Australia Universities in 2016 were female (this is higher than the percentage in the overall Australian population). And of the 42 universities in Australia 35 had more female than male students in 2016 with two having more than 70% females.
Australia is an incredibly diverse, multicultural society. Nearly 30% of Australian citizens were born overseas, and another 20% have one or both parents who were born overseas.
So, the ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ universities across the country are in some ways very similar to Australia’s diverse community. But in several ways, there is also a lot of room for improvement when it comes to increasing the overlap of cultures, nationalities and backgrounds.
What are your views on diversity at your university, and in what areas do you feel there’s room for improvement?