Completing tertiary qualifications

Rising completion rates for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates

The full-time completion rate for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates increased to 67 percent in 2017.  This follows an upward trend since 2006 when the rate was 53 percent.

The completion rates for level 1 to 4 certificates have had similar increases since 2007.  These rates have now stabilised.  Seventy-seven percent of full-time students who started a level 1 to 3 certificate in 2014 had completed this by 2017.  The figure for level 4 certificates was 74 percent.

Date Updated : November 2018

Indicator Description

This indicator looks at how many people complete a qualification each year and the rate at which people complete qualifications.  To calculate this rate, people who start a qualification in a particular year have their progress traced over the succeeding years.  The qualification completion rates used here vary in length dependent on the type and level of the qualification studied. For example, a bachelors degree can vary in length from three to six years and a doctoral degree can take six, or more, years to complete.

High numbers of students completing qualifications

In 2017, 117,000 domestic students completed a qualification.  This data should be treated as indicative as providers can continue to report completions throughout the following year.

Over the years from 2010 to 2016, more than 120,000 students completed a qualification each year. These high numbers of students completing qualifications compared with earlier years reflect two factors:  the movement of a population bulge of young people into tertiary education from 2006 to 2009, and an increased focus on qualification completions from 2012 onwards.

The decrease in the number of qualifications completed from 2016 to 2017 was mainly the result of fewer level 2 certificates, bachelors degrees and graduate diplomas and certificates.  Doctoral degrees continued to increase in number in 2017.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Number of domestic students who completed a qualification by level

Figure 1: Number of domestic students who completed a qualification by level.

Rising completion rates for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates

The upward trend in the completion rate for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates continued in 2017. For full-time students, the latest four-year rate, at 70 percent, is already higher than the latest six-year rate of 67 percent (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Six-year qualification completion rates for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 2:  Six-year qualification completion rates for level 5 to 7 diplomas and certificates by study pattern (domestic students).

Note that the completion rates shown here do not include the students who progress to a higher level of study without completing a qualification at the lower level. However, these students may complete at the higher level so progression may be viewed in a similar way to completion of a qualification.  Five to seven percent of students who start a level 1 to 7 diploma/certificate are retained in study at a higher level.  For people who start a bachelors or higher qualification two to three percent progress to a higher-level of study.

Note also that the increased focus on qualification completion has led to a decrease in the percentage of students who progress to a higher level of study without completing a qualification at the lower level.

The qualification completion rates for level 1 to 4 certificates have been increasing since 2007.  These rates now appear to have stabilised.  For full-time students, the latest four-year rates for level 1 to 3 certificates were close to 80 percent.  This compares to over 70 percent for level 4 certificates.

Figure 3:  Four-year qualification completion rates for level 1 to 3 certificates by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 3:  Four-year qualification completion rates for level 1 to 3 certificates by study pattern (domestic students).

Figure 4: Four-year qualification completion rates for level 4 certificates by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 4: Four-year qualification completion rates for level 4 certificates by study pattern (domestic students).

Bachelors degrees vary in length from three to six years.  For these longer qualifications, there are bigger differences in the completion rates for full-time and part-time students. The rates have increased slightly in recent years.  In 2017, the eight-year rate was 73 percent for full-timers and 34 percent for part-timers.

Figure 5:  Eight-year qualification completion rates for bachelors degrees by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 5:  Eight-year qualification completion rates for bachelors degrees by study pattern (domestic students).

Figure 6:  Four-year qualification completion rates for graduate diplomas/certificates by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 6:  Four-year qualification completion rates for graduate diplomas/certificates by study pattern (domestic students).

Postgraduate qualifications also vary in length.  The completion rates for these qualifications have been consistently high.  They range from around 75 percent for doctoral degrees to 80 percent and higher for all other postgraduate qualifications.  At these levels, the rates do not vary greatly between full-time and part-time students.

Figure 7:  Six-year qualification completion rates for honours qualifications by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 7:  Six-year qualification completion rates for honours qualifications by study pattern (domestic students).

Note:  ‘Honours’ include bachelors with honours degrees, postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates.

Figure 8:  Six-year qualification completion rates for masters degrees by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 8:  Six-year qualification completion rates for masters degrees by study pattern (domestic students).

Figure 9:  Six-year qualification completion rates for doctoral degrees by study pattern (domestic students)

Figure 9:  Six-year qualification completion rates for doctoral degrees by study pattern (domestic students).

Notes for the qualification completion rates:

  1. The progression rate shown here is for students who move to from a lower to higher level of study without completing a qualification at the lower level.
  2. The completion rate is defined as the percentage of students who have successfully completed a qualification at the level started.
  3. Data relates to domestic students only.
  4. Completion rates for any group with fewer than 30 students have been excluded.
  5. Students who completed a qualification at more than one level have been counted in each level.
  6. Full-time means students who study mostly full-time and part-time means students who study mostly part-time.
  7. Students who identify with more than one ethnic group have been counted in each group.
  8. Totals also include those students with unknown values.
  9. Honours' refers to bachelors with honours degrees, postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates.

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