The Re-engagement in Education of Early School Leavers


  • The authors assume jointly first authorship of the paper. Thanks to Guyonne Kalb and Deborah Cobb-Clark for their comments on an earlier draft. This paper derives from research commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) under the Social Policy Research Services Agreement (2005–2012) with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). The paper uses the confidentialised unit record file from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the MIAESR. Additional funding to support this research was provided by the Faculty of Economics and Commerce, University of Melbourne. The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DEEWR, FaHCSIA or the MIAESR.

Cain Polidano, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne, Level 7, Alan Gilbert Building, 161 Barry Street, VIC 3010, Australia. Email:


By OECD standards, the share of the Australian labour force with at least a secondary school qualification is low. One way to rectify this shortfall is to improve rates of re-engagement in education among early school leavers. This paper examines the patterns of re-engagement among early school leavers in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia sample. A key finding is that the early years after leaving school are crucially important, with rates of re-engagement dropping dramatically in the first three years out from school. For young adults up to age twenty four, results suggest that finding work, especially satisfying work, is an important motivator for returning to study. For older adults, re-engaging is linked to retraining after commencing a new job and returning to study after having kids.