In relation to this FactCheck, Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson told The Conversation that:
There is no contradiction at all in these statements. They are two, of numerous, issues that emerge from the statistics released yesterday. One is an observation about growth rates for commencing Commonwealth-supported students and the other is an observation about the total number of domestic enrolments. Both are correct.
Minister Birmingham is right when he says that the number of students enrolling is at a record high. The total number of students in higher education is indeed at an historic high after several years of expansion following the introduction and retention of a demand-driven system.
The point that UA has made is that the growth rate in new Commonwealth-supported students commencing a degree has plateaued in these figures from the first half of 2015. UA’s view is that this suggests an initial surge of ‘unmet demand’ has been steadily absorbed in the first few years since the move to a demand-driven system. The system appears to be reaching a new equilibrium – after which point it might be expected to grow broadly in line with population numbers.
This should take pressure off future funding arrangements because the growth in higher education expenditure is linked to enrolment numbers for Commonwealth-supported students.
We’re not saying one dataset is more important – they are both aspects of student enrolment trends.
The sector and the Minister are also in agreement on the great news in this set of figures about the strong growth in under-represented groups - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments in particular.