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More disadvantaged go to university

Record numbers of students from low socio-economic backgrounds are flocking to Australian universities this year, many of them the first in their families to take up tertiary education.

Figures provided to The Canberra Times show the number of university places offered to students from low SES backgrounds has leapt by 18.9 per cent since 2009, with 40,203 low socio-economic status students offered places this year.

And the government, which defines low-SES backgrounds by students' postcodes, is claiming an early victory in its goal to attract more low-SES students to Australian universities.

In 2009, then-education minister Julia Gillard said the government would aim to have low-SES students represent 20 per cent of enrolments by 2020. The number of students from low-SES backgrounds offered university places is now just shy of the 20 per cent target, with 40,203 students from low SES backgrounds enrolled in universities, of the total 202,346.

Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said uncapping university places had directly benefited disadvantaged students.

''Access barriers to university in the form of limits on student places meant many talented young people missed out on the opportunity to realise their full potential,'' he said.

''With the cap now removed, young people from rural and regional Australia, from migrant backgrounds, Indigenous people and those from low socioeconomic suburbs, are now taking up the opportunity to get a university qualification.''

Australian Catholic University has led the charge, increasing its low SES enrolments by 63.5 per cent since 2009 across campuses in NSW, Victoria, the ACT and Queensland.

''It's much more fundamental than [numbers],'' vice-chancellor Greg Craven said. ''We see ourselves as a social justice institution.

''One of the reasons we wanted to grow was to bring university education to low-SES students. We have a raft of things we try to do to attract low SES students and, once they're in, to cater for them.

''Because all parties understand there are as many clever students from a low-SES background as there are on the lower North Shore.''

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