Will closing the achievement gap solve the problem? A bayesian estimation of primary and secondary effects for indigenous university entry.

Year: 2012

Author: Parker, Philip, Bodkin-Andrews, Gawaian, Goodrich, Bryan, Marsh, Herbert, Jerrim, John, Schoon, Ingrid

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Overview. Effective intervention into educational inequalities is dependent on having an accurate understanding of the factors which predict it. Research on the educational attainment gap (e.g. entry into university) between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian youth has typically focused on closing the achievement gap in the hope that this will resolve the issue. However, recent research is beginning to find that Indigenous youth also have significantly different choice behaviours and resources. Using the work of Boudon, the current research explores the extent to which differences in university entry rates are due to achievement differentials (Primary Effects) versus differences in choice behaviours over-and-above achievement (Secondary Effects) for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Australia.

Methodology & Data. This research utalised a Bayesian approach to logistic mediation analysis applied to over 10,000 Australian youth, followed over eight years including over 500 Indigenous participants. The Bayesian approach utilised here provided a number of advancements over previously developed approaches by Jackson et al (2005). Namely, Bayesian logistic regression provides estimates of uncertainty, flexibility in estimating complex models, a sophisticated approach to dealing with missing data, and a range of options for exploring model fit.

Results. Findings suggest that a significant proportion of the Indigenous university entrance rate gap is due to choice factors and behaviours after controlling for achievement differentials. Indeed, the results suggest that if Indigenous youth maintained their own achievement distributions but took on the transition to university properties of non-Indigenous youth, entrance rates might raise by as much as 10%.

Significance. The vast majority of quantitative research into the educational attainment of Indigenous youth has focused on closing the achievement gap. The results from this research clearly indicate that if gap was closed the university entrance gap would indeed narrow significantly. Yet the findings also support emerging qualitative research that indicates that even if this gap was closed, differences in cost-benefit analyses would mean Indigenous youth would still not enter university at the same rates as their non-Indigenous peers. Understanding the nature of these differences in expectancy of successful attainment of post-school qualifications and the value ascribed to obtaining such outcomes will be essential for future research and policy.


Chair: Alexander Morin