Higher Education Meritocracy

Meritocratic ideas emphasizing individual responsibility and self-motivation have been prominent in discussions regarding Australian involvement in education and occupation. Meritocracy is a type of status belief in which the distribution of social goods is based on an individual’s effort and distinction (Liu 2016, p.107). Even though those with higher socioeconomic status (SES) profit from meritocratic views that legitimize their place inside the social pyramid, those with lower SES refuse to ratify meritocracy even though it helps them. Young people owe their educational success to factors such as aptitude and hard work, and blame their failure on the extrinsic features, for example, difficult task. There has been a rising trend on an application and offers higher education in Australia across all the SES (Parker, Gulson, and Gale 2017, p.19). This paper looks at how meritocratic views compound learning imbalances for young Australians from definite socio-demographic backgrounds. This trend can be explained by the attribution theory, which argues that people are motivated to ascribe reasons for their behaviors and actions.

Initially, the numbers of students joining higher education institutions only one-fifth were women. As of today, women comprise more than half of the university and college students. The number of people applying for higher education through Tertiary Admissions Centers (TAC) raised by 1.7% in 2016 with female representing 59.0% of all the applicants. Therefore, gender equality in higher education in Australia is no longer a concern, which necessitates attention. Significant gender differences remain despite the contemporary gains in the involvement of women in universities (Craven and Mooney 2013, p.49). In the Australian schools, there are gender variances in admission trends by extensive field of study. Out of all the students who enroll for the areas of education and health, more than three-quarters are women. On the contrary, 85% studying engineering-related courses and 75% taking degrees related to information technology are men. Ethnic beliefs are well displayed here in that there are courses which are believed to be made for men by the society. Motivational inequality accounts for this variation of individual perceptions on the causes of success and failure in academics (Arrow 2000, p.117). Even though there is substantial proof showing that self-attributions are entirely interrelated with higher education achievement, there remains an uncertainty about the trend of this correlation and how it differs from a social setting and ethnic background. Social and economic status also mainly impacts the trends in higher education in Australia. The individuals from low SES show lower participation in higher education unlike those from high SES (Basit and Tomlinson 2014, p.98). For instance, students from low SES accounted for 18% of the total applicants in undergraduate admissions in 2015. The Australian Government reports on undergraduate applications, offers, and acceptances of 2016 showed that students from low SES applied for the simple courses in the universities unlike those from middle and high SES who applied for better classes.

Women, exclusively those from low SES are more profound to the education cost and accordingly more debt than their male counterparts (Di Georgio-Lutz 2002, p.103). For example, the costs of engineering-related courses make the courses less accessible to women and, thus, are more dominated by men. Women tend to opt for the inexpensive courses in the fields of health and education. Meritocratic beliefs are mollifying for individuals from low SES who have improved self-esteem and physical health resulting from the sense of control received from these appealing beliefs (McNamee and Miller 2014, p.101). These trends seen in high education in Australia are a result of perceptions of individuals that a person’s educational achievements are increasingly crucial to prosperity in life. People forget that talents when nurtured well become more rewarding than educational success. Meritocrats from the high SES believe that they should be privileged in the society and this is risky in that the community will remain stratified in social classes (Thomas 2001, p.76). Australian governments have struggled to uphold a fair and equal society through various strategies that also address education meritocracy. The government has undertaken to promote equal access across socio-economic classifications and regions to the excellent education. However, educational barriers, particularly for the individuals from low SES backgrounds in Australia, could undesirably affect their societal agility (Lampert 2012, p.104). Educational obstructions will sway future income and status mobility, in addition to employment and health outcomes. The increasing enrollment of females in higher education in Australia is the result of the meritocratic education system. Since the system of meritocracy claims that those individuals who succeed should be rewarded has hugely motivated women to work harder. Meritocracy allows the students to transform their applied understanding of how to maneuver in higher education institutions into symbolic capital (Schreuder 2013, p.286). Students’ ethnic capital develops in part of economic wealth from their parents and uses their academics to accomplish commercial success.

The meritocratic belief of education system is fair to all and supports all students. However, some individuals due to wealthy background tend to do better than others. This fact results from those students being advantaged in the sense that they have access to all they need to succeed in academics due to financial ability. Their counterparts from low SES remain disadvantaged, and as a result, they end up blaming the education system. In a way, ethnic backgrounds should be the one to be blamed when it comes to failures in education. This is because, in order of meritocracy, there is equality of opportunity whereby all students become equal irrelevant from different social class, ethnicity, or even gender. It is the choices people make which dictate their destiny as far as education is concerned.


Arrow, K.J., 2000. Meritocracy and economic inequality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

Basit, T.N., and Tomlinson, S., 2014. Social inclusion and higher education. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Craven, R.G. and Dillon, A., 2013. Seeding success in indigenous Australian higher education: Indigenous Australian students’ participation in higher education and potential ways forward. In Seeding success in Indigenous Australian higher education (pp. 3-27). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Di Georgio-Lutz, J., 2002. Women in higher education: empowering change. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Lampert, K., 2012. Meritocratic education and social worthlessness. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Liu, Y., 2016. Higher education, meritocracy and inequality in China. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

McNamee, S.J., and MILLER, R.K., 2014. The meritocracy myth. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Parker, S., Gulson, K.N., and Gale, T., 2017. Policy and inequality in education. Singapore, Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Schreuder, D.M. ed., 2013. Universities for a new world: Making a global network in international higher education, 1913-2013. New Dehli, India: SAGE Publications India.

Thomas, L., 2001. Widening participation in post-compulsory education. London, Continuum.

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