The concept of lifelong learning implies a cycle where the learner contributes prior learning into a new learning environment and sees that learning upgraded. In recent years, a range of internal and external pressures have encouraged Australian universities to identify the meta or generic skills embedded in tertiary study. Using a content analysis of relevant university policy documents, this study assesses how the Australian higher education sector has presented this discussion through the notion of ‘graduate attributes’ and then analyses the implications of this conceptual transition. This article argues that the shift from a notion of generic skills to graduate attributes both reinforces and encourages universities to concentrate their participation in lifelong learning at one particular end of the cycle. This study suggests that, whilst informal experience is increasingly incorporated into university admission processes and even into credit for courses, progression towards a more equitable and accessible higher education sector remains patchy at best.