Meritocracy in the Australian Education System

Australia is a well-established democracy with a developed system of education and other public services. In 2019, the Former Chief Justice of WA Wayne Martin said that Australia has a great policy of social justice and equal opportunities. The official also added that Australia is a meritocracy, that is, a country whose prosperity rests on the prosperity of society. However, it should be analyzed in more details, whether this portrait corresponds to reality, given the numerous problems in society and the distribution of its resources. This paper aims to discuss whether higher education in Australia is meritocratic.

Theory and Statistics

Many patterns characterize the opportunities the state provides to citizens through public services. For instance, there is a particular dependence between the variables of socioeconomic status (SES) and the overall number of enrollments. According to the theory of human capital, human resources are the most valuable asset for all organizations (Kuzminov et al., 2019). No less important, the theory implies that the developed democratic states strive to expand the tendencies of equality and justice. There is an assumption about the naturalness of the discrepancy between how the theory of human resources should be implemented from the point of view of scientists, and how its components coexist in reality (Kuzminov et al., 2019). Moreover, scientists consider such differences to be an integral part of the theory. This reinforces the fairness of its main message – namely, the state’s emphasis on the development of social services to ensure the well-being of its citizens.

Some statistics should be presented to prove there is a problem in Australia with equal educational opportunities. In particular, the socio-economic status impacts the number of enrollments. In 2018, only 20.1% of applicants were with low SES compared to 50.5% with medium and 28.1% with high SES (“Undergraduate applications, offers,” 2018, p. 6). Remarkably, the offers from the lower SES showed a 3.5% decrease from 2017 to 2018. No less importantly, “medium SES applicants recorded a lower acceptance rate (76.6%) compared with low SES applicants (76.7%) and high SES applicants (77.2%)” (“Undergraduate applications, offers,” 2018, p. 9). Hence, there is strong evidence of lower turnover among students with lower SES that showed an increasing tendency in the following years.

Interestingly, low SES applicants were more likely to apply to courses in Health and Education, compared to Natural and Physical Sciences, Creative Arts, Society and Culture, Management and Commerce, and other courses. In 2021, there was a positive trend of a 3.9% increase in applications for students with low SES background, and a 3.8% increase in medium SES background (“Undergraduate applications, offers,” 2021, p. 13). At the same time, in 2021, the low SES applicants were only slightly less likely to receive the offer – 81.6% compared to 81.9% for medium SES (“Undergraduate applications, offers,” 2021, p. 13). Therefore, although the percentage of the overturn was lower, approximately the same percentage of students received the offer to join the colleges and universities.


The Australian government continues to support the idea of education development. Coaldrake (2019) notes that such development is possible by opening new universities, promoting social integration, and deepening international ties. In general, scholars have widely studied the issue of SES, including also the concept of SES which constitutes aspects of education, income, occupation, neighborhood, household resources, and academic performance (Coaldrake, 2019). Equally important, the researchers found only a weak relationship between SES and academic performance among university students, which may indicate better conditions for equality (Rodríguez-Hernández et al., 2020). Although scientists also note that the decisive factors for success are previous experience in higher education and work experience.

The researchers also analyzed the wider situation in education in Australia, which is currently facing environmental, economic, and social challenges. Such a situation requires better communication skills and higher levels of education from the participants in the labor market. Scientists confirm that SES continues to be a determining factor, citing a figure of only 50.8% employment among 24-year-old people with low SES, while people with high SES showed 82% employment level (“Educational opportunity in Australia,” 2020, p. 4). Such a stark difference highlights the existence of more general problems of low SES outside of education.

It is worth noting that, according to scientists, economic inequality has certain consequences. Knowledge of “actual levels of inequality and social mobility heightens anxiety,” although it can also stimulate self-development (Mijs & Hoy, 2022, p. 91). Equally interesting, scientists have determined that Australian citizens change their meritocratic view of the causes of inequality to a non-meritocratic one depending on the related informational messages that interpreted people’s income levels as justified or unjustified. The researchers also noted differences in perceptions of income inequality in Australia, Indonesia, and Mexico due to different cultural backgrounds (Mijs & Hoy, 2022). It is important to change the situation with uneven students’ overturn related to the SES levels, so the scholars suggest applying the human capital theory (Kuzminov et al., 2019). This theory implies that the state should do everything possible to ensure the valuable asset of human capital is applied.

Thus, it was discussed how the SES is a reflection of the Australian meritocratic education system. First, the extensive range of statistical evidence proves that there is a stable interest in measuring the state’s success in this field, which proves the aspirations for sustaining meritocracy. There is also a proven link between the lower SES and students’ turnover and further employment. This connection means that there would be a direct relationship between the state’s meritocracy efforts and society’s well-being. Therefore, although there is no visible proof of governmental success in supporting educational equality that rests on meritocracy, it still makes some efforts in this regard.


Coaldrake, P. (2019). Review of Higher Education Provider Category Standards. Web.

Educational opportunities in Australia. (2020). Victoria University. Web.

Kuzminov, Y., Sorokin, P., & Froumin, I. (2019). Generic and specific skills as components of human capital: New challenges for education theory and practice. Foresight, 13(2), 19-41.

Mijs, J. J., & Hoy, C. (2022). How information about inequality impacts belief in meritocracy: Evidence from a randomized survey experiment in Australia, Indonesia, and Mexico. Social Problems, 69(1), 91-122.

Rodríguez-Hernández, C. F., Cascallar, E., & Kyndt, E. (2020). Socio-economic status and academic performance in higher education: A systematic review. Educational Research Review, 29, 100305.

Undergraduate applications, offers, and acceptances 2018. (2018). Australian Government Department of Education. Web.

Undergraduate applications, offers, and acceptances 2021. (2021). Australian Government Department of Education. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Meritocracy in the Australian Education System." November 4, 2023.