This is Gen Z’s top university course choice — and it’s not teaching

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Victoria’s next generation wants to work in health and science, but is less keen on a future in commerce or secondary-school teaching.

The most in-demand fields for university courses have been revealed in data provided by the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre, which shows that despite a state government initiative to subsidise high-school teaching degrees there has been only a small uptick in students selecting it as their first preference.

First preferences closed on September 28, but another surge of applications is expected when VCE exams finish. Students will find out what course they’ve been accepted into on December 21, 10 days after receiving their ATAR scores.

The deadline for this year’s first preferences came a couple of weeks after the state government announced a $229 million package to address the teacher shortage by enticing more people into the secondary-school system.

The subsidies, which include coverage for cost of living, amount to $18,000 to those studying a four-year undergraduate program or $9000 for two years of a postgraduate study if they commit to teaching in state secondary schools for at least two years.

But just 2.12 per cent of prospective students have applied for the course as a first preference, compared to 1.9 per cent the previous year. When including second and third preferences, the number dipped from 2.09 per cent in 2021 to 1.85 per cent this year.

Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre chief executive Teresa Tjia said it was still a positive sign, given the announcement came towards the end of the application cycle.

“We think there’s going to be more interest, not only from year 12, but non-year 12 students,” she said.

Tjia said they were doing “as much as we can” to promote opportunities to study education and to become teachers.

“I think we should feel encouraged there is interest at this point,” she said.

Applicants include students doing VCE, International Baccalaureate and interstate students in year 12, as well as mature-age students.

While health remained one of the most popular first preferences, there was a 1 per cent decline in the number of applications, again despite the government’s offer of free nursing degrees.

Tjia said this could be the field “normalising” after significant increases following the Victorian government’s promise in 2022 to pay for the degrees of more than 10,000 nursing and midwifery students as part of a $270 million plan to boost staffing in the health system.

Health includes nursing, medical studies, pharmacy, optical, veterinary, dental, radiography and public health. The data did not show specific details for nursing first preferences, but domestic students in Victoria are still eligible for $16,500 scholarships to cover the cost of nursing degrees in 2024.

New VTAC research shows personal interest, rather than money, incentives or career options drives students’ university course selection.

Gen Z on Course, which surveyed nearly 7500 year 12 students, found that despite cost-of-living pressures, 85 per cent of students in 2022 chose courses based on personal interests. Career options drove 62 per cent of options and money influenced 37 per cent. Respondents could choose more than one option when surveyed.

Tjia said there was often a mix of motivators for students when it came to choosing a course, but it had been a “nice surprise” that so many saw further study as a positive choice for them.

She said there were expectations of a decline in applications post-COVID, but this year had bucked the national trend.

There have been 55,248 paid university applications, up 8.8 per cent from the previous year, and VTAC expects an extra 1.5 per cent of applications overall from last year.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said over the past decade there had been a decline in the number of people who wanted to train as teachers and an increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession early.

“Universities have worked closely with the expert panel tasked to examine ways to give our teachers the best start, to ensure we can attract and retain more of the strong and committed professionals we need,” Jackson said.

“The reality is, however, that students will always choose their field of study based on their passions – as they should.”

A state government spokesperson said the number of teachers in the Victoria has grown at twice the national average.

With Robyn Grace

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