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2023-24 Small Grants Research Program: Successful Projects Announced

The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education is pleased to announce 10 proposals have been selected for funding as part of NCSEHE’s Small Grants Research Program, for a total funding amount of AUD469,227.

This year, the Centre received 72 applications in total, which were assessed by NCSEHE’s Grants and Fellowships Committee before being endorsed by its Advisory Board. Of the 72 applications received, 69 were from Table A Providers and three from non-university organisations.

NCSEHE’s Grants and Fellowships Committee noted applications received included a broad range of subjects and research methodologies and drew on expertise from across the higher education sector. The overall quality of the applications received was quite good and bodes well for this and future rounds of the Small Grants Research Program.

The successful first-round projects and recipients include:

Investigating relationships between first-in-family status, equity groups, and university access

Lead institution: The University of Queensland

Researchers: Dr Tomasz Zajac, Associate Professor Garth Stahl and Associate Professor Wojtek Tomaszewski

Project abstract: We know students who are first-in-family have lower chances of attending university. However, we do not have robust evidence on i) how first-in-family status intersects with identified equity groups, including low-socioeconomic (SES) and women in non-traditional areas (WINTA), and ii) how first-in-family individuals access different higher education (HE) fields of study. Furthermore, most of the Australian evidence on first-in-family students comes from small-scale qualitative studies. This project uses unique whole-of-population administrative data obtained by the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) to produce robust evidence on intersections between first-in-family status, equity groups (including low-SES and WINTA), and fields of study to inform HE policy and practice and address disparities in higher education access.


Enabling programs and Indigenous student university completion: Building the evidence

Lead institution: The University of Queensland

Researchers: Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, Dr Katelyn Barney, Professor Tracey Bunda, Ash Moor (UQ College), Kirsten Hausia (The University of Melbourne) and Scott Parlett (UNSW)

Project abstract: Completion rates for Indigenous students remain significantly lower than non-Indigenous students. Enabling programs are central to preparing and transitioning Indigenous students into university and are correlated with above average Indigenous undergraduate retention (Pitman et al., 2017). However, high-quality research-based evidence of the impact of these programs in relation to supporting university completion is limited. The proposed mixed-methods project focuses on exploring “what works” in enabling programs and potential correlations between prior enrolment in an enabling programs and university completion for Indigenous students. The results will assist universities to implement stronger enabling programs to prepare and support Indigenous student success and completion.


Building understanding of First Nations students’ progression through university

Lead institution: Australian Council for Educational Research

Researchers: Dr Daniel Edwards, Dr Rebecca Taylor and James Beaufils (UTS)

Project abstract: This project is a mixed methods approach designed to improve understanding of the pathways through higher education among First Nations people in Australia, with an end-goal of using this understanding to promote change in policy, practice, and support to foster successful outcomes. The work aims to build on the philosophy of ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ developed in various spheres and included here in the context of promoting success in support for First Nations students. The project will explore data on entry, progress, experience, and completion of university, and conduct interviews with First Nations university students.


Towards a financially inclusive higher education system

Lead institution: University of Wollongong

Researchers: Dr Anne McMahon, Professor Karen Charlton, Associate Professor Kelly Lambert, Associate Professor Yasmine Probst, Dr Katherine Kent, Professor Karen Walton, Dr Joanna Russell, Dr Kylie Austin, and Dr Gabrielle O’Flynn

Project abstract: Financial stress is a significant concern amongst university students, with one in seven identifying they regularly go without food, and three in five saying finances are a source of worry (Universities Australia, 2017). The most recent national project about the financial circumstances of university students was conducted in 2017. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence suggests the financial stress experienced by students has increased (Parliament of Australia, 2023). This proposed project seeks to understand the financial stress experienced by Australian University students and provide recommendations for policy and practice to address this complex challenge.


Socioeconomic disadvantages, choice of disciplines, and post-university labour market performance

Lead institution: Flinders University

Researchers: Dr Rong Zhu and Professor Xiaodong Gong (University of Canberra)

Project abstract: This project aims to empirically investigate the role of multidimensional disadvantages in the choice of academic disciplines at university, which translates into different career outlooks and hence post-university labour market performance. Our analysis will be conducted using nationally representative panel data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, which provides rich information on university enrolment and socioeconomic disadvantages in the early years of individuals’ lives. This study will shed new light on possible channels of intergenerational transmission of disadvantages and inequality through career choices, with implications for both individuals’ career choices and related policy interventions.


Navigating the cultural interface: Indigenous PhD scholars’ experience of working toward epistemological equity in health research across Australia, Canada, and New Zealand

Lead institution: The University of Melbourne

Researchers: Associate Professor Shawana Andrews, Odette Mazel, and Emily Munro-Harrison

Project abstract: This project will examine the experiences of Indigenous PhD scholars in Australia, Canada and New Zealand and explore the ways in which they are championing community-informed and Indigenous-led research at the cultural interface in higher education (Durie 2005; Nakata 2002; 2007). Through an international comparative approach, and drawing on in-depth interviews and/or yarning circles with Indigenous PhD scholars and academics working in the field of health, our aim is to better understand the factors that contribute to building the intellectual, cultural and social capital to support Indigenous PhD Scholars to conduct their projects in self-determined ways.


Understanding school students’ aspirations in uncertain times

Lead institution: The University of Newcastle Australia

Researchers: Dr Leanne Fray, Dr Sally Patfield, Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, and Dr Natasha Weaver

Project abstract: This project investigates how the current economic and socio-political climate is influencing young people’s thoughts and plans about their post-school futures, generating rigorous evidence to inform higher education policy, social policy, and equity interventions. The study extends our Aspirations program of research to examine how the educational and occupational aspirations of young Australians have changed over the past decade. We compare existing datasets involving students in Years 3-12 (n ~8,000) with follow-up surveys and interviews with a new cohort of students and teachers from a sub sample of secondary schools from the original study.


Time for a rethink: Assessment policy to enable equity

Lead institution: CQUniversity

Researchers: Associate Professor Joanne Dargusch, Dr Lois Harris, Professor Margaret Kettle, Associate Professor Jill Willis (Queensland University of Technology), and Julie Arnold (Queensland University of Technology)

Project abstract: This project investigates the concept of time within Australian higher education assessment policies. Students from equity backgrounds’ varied timescapes are seldom acknowledged in higher education. Assessment policies will be examined via qualitative content analysis, data mining, and analyses of discourses to examine how diverse students’ timescapes are considered and surface assumptions about class, race, gender, language background, and ability. Two institutions identified as having flexible policies will be investigated via site visits to construct sector exemplars. Feedback from a national roundtable event will inform a report, resources, and guidelines around how to equitably consider diverse students’ timescapes within assessment policies.


Engaging low SES, regional and remote students through online communities

Lead institution: University of Tasmania

Researchers: Dr Frances Fan and Dr David Hicks

Project abstract: Many low SES and regional and remote students leave their online courses without completion, costing the student, university, and society. Our project will identify innovative pedagogical practices to maximise engagement and retention of low SES and regional and remote students. A mixed methods explanatory design integrates LMS data with a survey with online students, and interviews with teachers, learner designers, and students from the target equity groups. Our analysis will inform understanding of effective approaches to developing online learning communities that engage students in these groups and deliver a toolkit to guide future online courses improving equity HE participation online.


Enhancing the impact of pre-access programs on equity: 2013-2023 Impact Analysis

Lead institution: Western Sydney University

Researchers: Professor Alphia Possamai-Inesedy, Dr Rhonda Itaoui, and Sophie Partridge

Project abstract: This project examines the impact of pre-access programs on how students from equity groups both access and succeed in university. The project draws on three key methodologies: (i) analyses ABS data on educational attainment in Western Sydney, (ii) examines the existing dataset of more than 12,000 entries from program participants of Western Sydney University access programs from 2013 to 2023 and (iii) collects qualitative insights on the experiences and journeys of students in these access programs. Collectively, these data sources will provide equity practitioners with benchmark insights and principles for best practice for enhancing the impact of pre-access support on the participation, retention, and success of students from equity groups facing intersecting factors of vulnerability across geographical location, socio-economic disadvantage, language proficiency, migration status, and students from First Nations and Pacific Islander communities.


NCSEHE thanks all the applicants for their research proposals and its Grants and Fellowships Committee for its work. Project updates and final reports will be published here on our website in due course.

Posted 13 December 2023 Posted in General, Indigenous, Low SES, Women in non-traditional areas