RDP 2021-06: What Is Driving Participation and Diversity Trends in Economics? A Survey of High School Students 2. Data

2.1 Survey

The RBA collaborated with Ipsos to undertake the ‘High School Students’ Subject Selection Survey' of Year 10, 11 and 12 students in New South Wales in 2019. We chose to survey schools in New South Wales, rather than other states, as a rich set of school-level data is already available to the RBA about students in this state to supplement the analysis. There are also extensive permissions processes and logistical challenges that vary across the state education systems, which made it infeasible to survey multiple states in a timely way.

The overarching aim was to ensure that we generated a representative sample of the New South Wales Year 10, 11 and 12 student population for our analysis. The sampling frame (or relevant population) consisted of 770 schools in New South Wales after excluding institutions deemed out of scope or without approval to approach.[3]

The sample population was stratified at the school level to attain a sample with representative coverage of the government and non-government sectors, and metro and regional locations. A total of 51 schools completed the survey between July and September 2019.[4] The schools fall within 8 strata, covering school sector (government or non-government), school type (co-ed, all girls or all boys) and location (metro or regional) (Table 1).

Table 1: Sample of Schools
By stratum
  Population   Sample
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Metro government all boys 20 3   1 2
Metro government co-ed 211 27   11 22
Metro government all girls 23 3   3 6
Metro non-government all boys 36 5   1 2
Metro non-government co-ed 165 21   16 31
Metro non-government all girls 44 6   1 2
Regional government 190 25   14 27
Regional non-government 81 11   4 8
Total 770 100   51 100

Sources: NSW Education Standards Authority; RBA

Each participating school was asked to administer the survey to as many Year 10, 11 and 12 students as they were willing. Schools were more willing to administer the survey to Year 10 students, compared with the senior years (Table 2). A total of 4,826 students completed the survey. The survey was completed in class by students on computers or devices under the supervision of a teacher.[5] Responses identified as being from potential ‘skimmers’ (i.e. students who completed the survey in an implausibly short time) were excluded, yielding a final sample of 4,698 responses. The characteristics of the sample are broadly representative of the New South Wales (NSW) student population in terms of sex, school sector and geographical area (see Appendix A).[6] Of Year 11 and 12 students in the sample, 10 per cent study Economics, consistent with the state-wide figures.

Table 2: Sample of Schools
By year and Economics status
Students surveyed from
School teaches Economics in Year 11 and 12 Sample
Yes No
Year 10 19 26 45
Year 11 16 18 34
Year 12 14 18 32

Source: RBA

The questionnaire design was informed by focus groups with Year 10, 11 and 12 students to ensure that the factors contributing to subject selection, and the drivers and barriers to selecting Economics, were adequately represented and in appropriate language.[7] For Year 10 students, questions related to their subject selection intentions for Year 11 and 12.[8] Students in Year 11 and 12 were asked to reflect on the reasons for choosing the subjects they did.

2.2 Administrative enrolments data

To enrich the unit record survey data, and establish the relative importance of school characteristics, we draw on administrative data provided by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for 2019. These data provide Year 12 Economics enrolments, the size of the total Year 12 cohort, the number of Year 12 subjects taught, and information about each schools sector (government or non-government), school type (co-ed, all girls or all boys) and location (metro or regional). The measure of socio-economic status used in this paper is the 2019 Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) score for each school.[9] (This score is derived from a number of variables including parental education and occupation, the school's location and proportion of Indigenous students.)


Schools deemed out of scope included distance education providers, TAFE (an Australian vocational education and training provider), international school campuses and schools without enrolment figures. Approvals were not obtained from the Catholic education office for all dioceses, and therefore 19 schools had to be excluded from the population. [3]

All 770 schools in the sampling frame were given the opportunity to participate in the survey (i.e. were sent a pre-approach letter, followed by a recruitment phone call). A total of 90 schools were recruited, with 51 completing the survey. Fourteen schools expressed a willingness to participate but were unable to do so within the allocated fieldwork periods and 25 schools declined to participate post-recruitment. The most common reasons for declining post-recruitment included being unable to find a teacher to facilitate the research, or students being bound by other commitments that prevented completion within the specified fieldwork period. [4]

The average time taken to complete the survey was 10 minutes. [5]

The analysis uses an ‘imputed sex’ variable (male/female) for respondents who reported non-binary genders or preferred not to identify their gender, to be consistent with the enrolments data (which are in terms of male/female). While the student survey asked about gender, the sample size for non-binary genders or those who preferred not to identify their gender was too small to run separate analyses. [6]

The hypotheses generated from previous RBA analysis and liaison were too expansive to explore in a questionnaire. Furthermore, it was possible that some factors had yet to emerge. Groups were also used to glean any specific language used by students. [7]

At the time of completing the survey, however, about a third of Year 10 students had already selected their subjects and 85 per cent had already started the subject selection process. [8]

ICSEA is sourced from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) My School data. The 2019 scores can be found at <https://www.acara.edu.au/contact-us/acara-data-access>. [9]