EDST5126 Week 7 – Changing Demographics in higher education: A taxing task or a curious exploration?

“Week 7 Task: Identify and analyse trends in student demographics in your country/state and what impact this could have on your chosen institution. Make references to relevant literature.”

BUT, I think that ‘TASK” is a word with pretty heavy connotations, and makes me feel even more weighted down than all the Easter eggs I have consumed in the last week. 

Therefore, rather than performing this ‘task’, I have decided to, with curiosity, explore student demographics using Burton’s three questions (1970) of: What? So What? Now what?

What so what now what

So the reflective cycle with which I will engage for this week’s topic on changing student demographics is as follows:

  1. WHAT?            What are the trends in student demographics in your country / state?
  2. SO WHAT?       What is contributing to these trends?
  3. NOW WHAT?  What impact could this have on your chose institution?


(Incidentally, mytax6 trusty Online Etymology Dictionary informs me that the origin of the word “task” comes from the early 14th Century Old North French verb ‘tasque’ meaning “a quantity of work imposed as a duty” which is interestingly the etymological fore-runner of the word ‘tax’…..hopefully my responses won’t be too taxing!)



True to my usual procrastinatory and long-winded form, before exploring changing student demographics, an etymological definition of demography is needed. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, ‘demography’ comes from Greek ‘demos’ for people and ‘graphy’ meaning ‘the science of divining from demographic statistics’ and interestingly had its origins in examining trends in television audiences…..

WHAT? What are the trends?

I have chosen to look at the trends from three perspectives: Australia, disciplines with a specific focus on health and third, people with disabilities….the reason for my interest in the latter relates to my medical speciality of Rehabilitation Medicine which focuses on people with disability, and the question of tertiary study often arises when moving into community-based rehabilitation. Second, I am frequently consulted on issues facing people with disabilities studying medicine, the reason for which is is threefold: the discipline in which I work, my particular interest in medical education, and the fact that I have a unique perspective as I have a significant vision impairment myself.


  • 3/4 of those enrolled are Australian citizens or permanent residents
  • Rapid growth since 1960
australia enrolments
Grattan Institute (2014) 
  • Post-graduate course work enrolments doubled in last 3 decades

level of study

  • Participation rates doubled in last 2 decades


  • Particular growth in health disciplines since 2000 – taking the share from Information technology
discpline trends
Grattan Institute (2014) 

Trends in medicine 

  • 100% increase in undergraduate medical student places since 2001
  • Now an oversupply of medical students and a misdistribution with excess in city areas and inadequate numbers in rural / regional areas 
  • This mismatch is seen because: 1. Medical schools largely city based 2. Accumulations of life ‘baggage’ throughout medical school and don’t want to move rurally after an investment of 6-7 years training 

SO WHAT? Trend analysis

  • Too many cooks: there are a dizzyingly large array of groups collecting demographic data on medical students and related workforce planning (see mind map) – a concerted effort to link and coordinate these datasets (data linkage) is needed with a larger perspective than the piecemeal analysis that ther seems to currently be. Perhaps a coming together of relevant stakeholders is what is called for with clearly defined questions is needed 
  • Need to develop training programs and clinical schools in regional areas (starting to see this happen but it is still a struggle…..i experience first hand the angst of second year students who have been told that they have to move to a regional area when there are mitigating circumstances which could / should keep them based in sydney eg partner / children. 

NOW WHAT? Implications

  • Look at redistribution of medical school places amongst existing medical schools to address mismatch (Woodley, 2016). 
  • Explore how to market rural placement to students……I don’t know how to do this…..the reality is that most students who spend significant time in rural / regional areas have a marvellous learning experience, but the question is: how can this be communicated with the unconverted? 
  • Consideration of ensuring that there are sufficient specialist opportunities for graduating medical tudents in regional areas to keep them there……it’s all very well to bring students to graduation rurally but they will not stay unless there are sufficient follow on training opportunities waiting for them there. 
  • Further speciality subgroup analysis is needed, especially for geriatrics and rehabilitaiton medicine to address population wide demographic trends. 

You can teach an old dog new tricks! 

I have become interested in ways of tracking and representing data so that recurring themes and issues can be noted in this subject and others. I have had the opportunity to play with a ‘mind mapping’ program. I selected “Mind Vector” to experiment with, selecting it based on the number of positive reviews on the Apple App Store. I found it intuitive to use and add items to but not so easy (at least with the free version) to modify an existing “branch” of the mind map. Perhaps I need to make an investment and / or do some more in depth research to work out how to achieve this. 

I would appreciate your feedback on your thoughts of how this adds (or not) to my blog! 



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