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2019/20 NCSEHE Research Grants Program projects announced

The objective of the NCSEHE is to build the evidence base through research informing policy and practice. One of the ways the Centre has achieved this is through the NCSEHE Research Grants Program which has funded 47 projects over four rounds from 2014–19, with a total research expenditure of A$1,945,733.

The fifth funding round (2019–20) received 54 applications from 28 different lead organisations, with 15 projects awarded funding to a value of A$534,779.

The research priorities for this round included equity students and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); equity and mature age students; digital inclusion and student equity; study-life balance and student equity; non-traditional’ equity groups; and housing and student equity.

The 15 Research Grants Program projects for 2019/20 will be as follows:

Careers guidance for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrants and Refugees (CALDM/R) students

Lead Institution: Deakin University

Researchers: Alexander Newman, Sally Baker, Clemence Due and Karen Dunwoodie

Project abstract: Although growing numbers of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrants and Refugees (CALDM/R) are entering higher education, we have limited knowledge as to how they are being supported to transition out of higher education and seek employment after they graduate. The proposed project therefore has two aims. Firstly, it will identify the extent to which careers’ guidance and support is provided to CALDM/R students before and after they enter higher education. Secondly, it will provide qualitative evidence of what works well and what is missing from existing offerings provided by universities to support CALDM/R students to enter and exit higher education.

Understanding the higher education experiences of humanitarian migrants in Australia

Lead Institution: University of Queensland

Researchers: Francisco Perales, Wojtek Tomaszewski, Matthias Kubler and Ning Xiang

Project abstract: Humanitarian migrants remain a vulnerable social group and experience significant barriers to integration in host-country societies. While participation in higher education could lift humanitarian migrants’ socioeconomic prospects, their engagement with the educational system remains limited. This project will generate unique empirical evidence on enablers/barriers to higher education amongst humanitarian migrants in Australia, using recent and robust data from the Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset and Building a New Life in Australia and state-of-the-art statistical models. Project findings will have potential to inform the design and implementation of equity policies to improve the socioeconomic status of humanitarian migrants in Australia.

Supporting carers to succeed in Australian higher education

Lead Institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Lisa Andrewartha, Giovanna Szalkowicz and Andrew Harvey

Project abstract: Carers are often educationally disadvantaged due to caring responsibilities. This project will establish the first major evidential base for carers in Australian higher education. Specifically, it will: examine available national data sets to create a geo-demographic profile of carers, work with Carers Australia (Victoria) to identify and survey carers who have studied at university, and analyse admissions policies at university level, including the treatment of carers through the Special Education Access Scheme (SEAS) within the Tertiary Admissions Centres (TACs). Overall, this project will support policymakers to improve the university access, success and outcomes of student carers.

Open Textbooks and social justice: A national scoping study

Lead Institution: Deakin University

Researchers: Sarah Lambert, Yin Paradies, Ben Whitburn and Kelly George

Project abstract: Open Textbooks are a recent innovation in free, digital texts that can be distributed at no cost; printed at cost-price; and modified for local needs, such as to correct gender, socio-cultural and indigenous underrepresentations in the curriculum. This project will build on American research showing that equity students benefit most from free textbooks similar to the benefits of scholarships/financial aid by lifting grades and course progress rates. This study replicates the UK national scoping study with equity-focused additions, using a social justice framework to test the potential within the Australian context in terms of redistributive (economic), recognitive and representational justice.

Investigating transitions to university from regional South Australian high schools

Lead Institution: University of South Australia

Researchers: Sharron King and Cathy Stone

Project abstract: This research seeks to identify why high-achieving students (i.e. Years 11 and 12 in an ATAR stream) from regional South Australia are transitioning from school to university at lower rates than students in metropolitan areas. Additionally, the project aims to build an interstate comparison between previous NCSEHE research conducted in New South Wales (NSW) on the same issue (Quin, Stone, & Trinidad, 2017). This comparative research will explore if the factors identified in the NSW report transcend Australian state borders, in order to begin to develop a national response to the factors that are identified as inhibiting regional student transitions to higher education.

STEM Pathways – The impact of equity, anxiety and prior achievement

Lead Institution: Australian Council of Educational Research

Researchers: Julie McMillan, Sarah Buckley, Daniel Edwards and Sheldon Rothman

Project abstract: The outcomes of this work will offer new insight into the dynamics of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pathways for equity students. The research will investigate STEM pathways of four equity groups, examining how their experiences differ from non-equity groups. The project will use Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) data to examine in detail pathways into STEM education and occupations undertaken by young people in Australia and identify factors associated with pursuing higher education STEM. In particular, the project will assess the extent to which students reporting the presence of barriers—such as maths anxiety, prior achievement and low self-efficacy—in pursuing tertiary STEM pathways.

Higher education aspirations, participation and achievement of Australian Indigenous males

Lead Institution: Charles Darwin University

Researchers: James Smith, Jesse Fleay, Braden Hill, Garth Stahl, Lester-Irabinna Rigney, Steven Larkin, Himanshu Gupta, Peter Radoll, Andrew Harvey, Dennis McDermott, Rebecca Bennett and Bep Uink

Project abstract: Indigenous Australians face multiple challenges when striving to participate and achieve in higher education. Men are also underrepresented in higher education across all equity groups, including that of Indigenous men. This means that Indigenous men face cumulative impacts when attempting to pursue higher education. This research aims to examine the intersection between Indigeneity and gender among Indigenous males that are (a) aspiring to pursue higher education (aged 14-18); and (b) participating in, or recently completed, higher education (any age). The research will identify policy and practice levers to improve Indigenous men’s participation in higher education in Australia.

Exploring benefits and challenges of online Work Integrated Learning (WIL) for equity students

Lead Institution: University of Sydney

Researchers: Amani Bell, Jim Tognolini, Kathryn Bartimote, Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Bridget Roddy and Nora Dempsey

Project abstract: The Universities Australia audit of work integrated learning (WIL) revealed alarming discrepancies in access to WIL for students from remote, low and middle socioeconomic status, and Indigenous backgrounds: all more than five per cent below the average participation rate. Students from equity backgrounds report that time pressures, financial responsibilities, caring commitments, and geographic location are barriers to their uptake of WIL. The research team posits that online WIL is one way of overcoming these barriers. This project, building on previous and current NCSEHE research, will explore the benefits and challenges of online WIL for students from equity groups in Australia and the USA.

Inside the black box of the Block Model: First-year STEM

Lead Institution: Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

Researchers: Jen Jackson, Kathy Tangalakis, Zoran Endekov, Peter Hurley, Peter Noonan and Ian Solomonides

Project abstract: The research will investigate how universities can support equity students to succeed in first-year STEM subjects, based on the Block Model at Victoria University (VU). Delivering STEM subjects in “blocks” has improved outcomes for VU equity students, possibly by encouraging lecturers to “teach students”, rather than “teach content”. To test this hypothesis, the research will investigate how aspects of the Block Model change the student experience, using administrative data, targeted interviews, and findings from lecturers’ action research projects. By identifying which changes make most difference, the study will generate broader recommendations for equity-focused policy and practice across the university sector.

Australian universities and educational equity for student veterans

Lead Institution: Flinders University

Researchers: Ben Wadham, Melanie Takarangi, Andrew Harvey, Lisa Andrewartha, Brad West, Liz Burd and Matthew Wyatt-Smith

Project abstract: Veterans are a disadvantaged group who are prone to mental health issues, unemployment, and substance abuse. One way to address this cycle of disadvantage is to support the inclusion and education of veterans at universities. Existing research on veterans at Australian universities has highlighted some of the difficulties facing student veteran’s participation in higher education. There is no information about how Australian universities recognise, support and govern student veterans. Our consortia of four universities will investigate how Australian universities, and key government departments, address the educational equity needs of student veterans, using interviews, focus groups and document analyses.

Housing matters: understanding the housing experiences of undergraduate regional and remote students living outside the family home

Lead Institution: The University of Newcastle

Researchers: Julia Cook, Matthew Bunn, Penny Jane Burke and Hernan Cuervo

Project abstract: Although remote and regional students are far more likely to relocate to study and live outside the family home than their urban counterparts, insight into the impact of housing on their participation in higher education remains largely anecdotal. This study will address the impact of housing on these students’ participation in higher education, addressing spatial, relational, temporal and financial factors. It will collect survey and interview data from regional and remote students living outside the family home while attending two Australian universities in order to establish an evidence base that will aid development of policies to enhance equity of participation.

Comfort with discomfort: Exploring Wadjella educators’ engagement with Indigenous students

Lead Institution: Curtin University

Researchers: Jonathan Bullen, Lynne Roberts, Cheryl Davis and Braden Hill

Project abstract: Despite growing numbers of Indigenous students enrolling into tertiary study, retention figures continue to differ significantly between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, highlighting the need to develop effective retention strategies. While the inclusion of curriculum designed to develop and facilitate cultural competence and safety continues, equivalent growth in the development of Wadjella academics’ capability to effectively deliver this curriculum has not occurred. Little is known about the ways Wadjella academics engage with Indigenous students. This project will explore educator and student perspectives, providing critical insight into the nature and potential consequences of educator engagement, and its impact upon Indigenous student retention.

An institutional study of ‘ghost student’ failure amongst equity cohorts

Lead Institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Bret Stephenson, Michael Luckman, Yujie Wang and Beni Cakitaki

Project abstract: Every year, a significant minority of students will remain enrolled in a unit and incur a financial liability but exhibit no evidence of having participated in the unit. Early evidence suggests this behaviour is a leading indicator of degree non-completion and is significantly more likely among equity student groups. Utilising longitudinal enrolment data from a metropolitan university with regional campuses, this project will quantify patterns of what have been called “non-participating enrolments” (NPE) among disadvantaged and underrepresented student cohorts. Recommendations will be provided relating to policy implications and outline strategies for student support.

A novel approach to mapping the impact of informal STEM programs

Lead Institution: University of South Australia

Researchers: Simon Leonard

Project abstract: For several decades, universities, industry and government have invested heavily in the delivery of “outreach” programs seeking to improve STEM participation from equity groups. While popular, the impact of these programs is poorly understood in the global literature. This project will take a novel approach to addressing this gap by mapping changes in different aspects of student attitude through a short but frequent survey instrument. Through a quasi-experimental design, the project will investigate the impact of five differently designed STEM outreach programs, and will establish a database for further research.

Disability inclusion investment across the digital delivery continuum

Lead Institution: Curtin University

Researchers: Katie Ellis, Keith Houghton, Matt Brett, Tim Pitman, Darlene McLennan and Elizabeth Knight

Project abstract: This project will aim to better understand the full costs of supporting students with disability in higher education, with a focus on how digital (online) enrolments affect the costs and types of support offered. This study will adopt a mixed methods approach to understand how institutions with higher and lower levels of digital delivery invest in the inclusion of students with disabilities, both online and on-campus. Further, through a matched pair sampling and analytic approach, it will assess whether specific forms of investment across modes of delivery correlate with better outcomes for students with disabilities.

We would like to thank all of the applicants for this funding round, as well as the NCSEHE Advisory Committee. Ongoing updates and the final reports will be published to the NCSEHE website in 2020/21.

Posted 7 November 2019 Posted in Disability, First in Family, General, Indigenous, International, Low SES, Regional