Enabling programs help disadvantaged into university
Equity students who enter university via enabling programs generally experience better first-year retention rates than those entering via most other sub-bachelor pathways, a new study led by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) has found.
Dr Tim Pitman said the research, which included a survey of 2,593 students from 11 universities across Australia, found the strong university performance existed despite the students’ more extreme levels of disadvantage.
“There is a wide range of innovative enabling programs in place across Australia and the absence of fees associated with completing one of these programs encourages these students to enrol in them who might otherwise not have enrolled in a VET or other university pathway,” Dr Pitman said.
The study identified university enabling programs as ranking second only to Vocational Education Training (VET) in getting equity students into university study, despite being able to offer only a fraction of places compared to VET. The researchers found the distinction between the two pathways evident in that enabling students were primarily seeking a way to access and prepare for university, while most VET students were seeking vocational skills or access to a specific vocation.
The national survey also revealed ways in which enabling programs might be improved.
“The students we surveyed who used enabling programs as university entrance pathways told us they felt instructors could do more to guide them through the complex university process,” Dr Pitman said.
“Students need to be told more about how enabling programs are different to undergraduate study, what degrees and study assistance programs are on offer within individual universities, and what an educational pathway might look like in terms of progressing from undergraduate to post-graduate study.”
A lack of transferability of enabling program completion between Australian universities was also thought likely to affect student take-up, mobility and progress.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad said helping prospective students understand university admissions processes was key to supporting disadvantaged people to attain university qualifications.
“More than half of the students admitted into higher education do not use an ATAR and transition via alternative pathways,” Professor Trinidad said.
The research project, Pathways to Higher Education: the Efficacy of Enabling and Sub-Bachelor Pathways for Disadvantaged Students, was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training via its 2014 Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme-funded National Priorities Pool initiative.
The project team comprised six leading researchers in the field of equity in higher education from four universities:
- Co-Chief Investigators Dr Tim Pitman and Professor Sue Trinidad from the NCSEHE
- Federation University Australia Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Quality) Professor Marcia Devlin
- La Trobe University Access and Achievement Research Unit Director Dr Andrew Harvey and Senior Manager Higher Education Policy Mr Matthew Brett, and
- Deakin University Faculty of Business and Law’s Dr Jade McKay.