News & Events

NCSEHE webinar — “Ghost student” failure among equity cohorts: Towards understanding non-participating enrolments

Event Details
Zoom webinar
15 April 2021

The NCSEHE hosted a webinar on 15 April, presenting new research led by Dr Bret Stephenson on “ghost student” failure in higher education.

Webinar overview

A quarter of university fail grades represent “ghost students”, who remain enrolled in undergraduate units but show no evidence of participation.

Research published by the NCSEHE in March 2021 found improved identification and support is required for “ghost students”, particularly Indigenous students who are at a high risk of ghosting behaviours.

While non-participating enrolments (NPEs) and unit failure frequently go unnoticed at institutional and national levels, this form of disengagement places an academic and financial burden on students; universities see a reduction in their publicised ‘success rates’; and governments see little return for the allocation of Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) funding. From 2022, ghosting behaviours may also contribute to student ineligibility under the new Job-Ready Graduates Package if students record fails through NPE.

The research informed important recommendations for university policy and practice, particularly focusing on students from recognised equity groups, including low socioeconomic status, regional and remote, and non-English speaking backgrounds, as well as Indigenous students.

In this free webinar, Dr Bret Stephenson, Michael Luckman and Beni Cakitaki from the Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research (CHEEDR) at La Trobe University presented key findings and recommendations from the research, followed by a live Q and A session.

Webinar recording

Webinar slides


Ghost student webinar transcript edited (Word doc.)


Dr Bret Stephenson — Senior Research Fellow, CHEEDR, La Trobe University

Dr Bret Stephenson holds a PhD from The University of Edinburgh and currently leads the data analytics program at CHEEDR. Bret has received several institutional awards in addition to a 2014 OLT Citation for embedding success and retention efforts within the curriculum. His success and retention projects have attracted over $3 million in competitive funding since 2012. He was also the lead author of La Trobe’s Student Success and Retention Strategy, 2016, and oversaw the development and deployment of associated special projects totalling more than $3 million. Bret has research interests in: student success and retention, data analytics, student equity and participation, and the history of higher education.

Michael Luckman — Manager, Institutional Research, CHEEDR, La Trobe University

Michael has extensive experience working on higher education data analysis projects. He has led internal evaluations of La Trobe University’s School Partnerships Program, College of Science Health and Engineering (SHE) outreach programs, and analysis of La Trobe’s equity and teaching and learning performance measures. Michael’s recent research publications have focussed on: re-recruitment of students who have stopped out of higher education; equity within student globalisation activities; care leavers in higher education; predictors of student attrition; and patterns of regional student relocation.

Beni Cakitaki — Senior Research Officer (Data Analytics), CHEEDR, La Trobe University

Beni Cakitaki is a Senior Research Officer at CHEEDR, with a focus on quantitative methods. His research interests include Australian and international higher education policy, policy and program evaluation, causal inference, predictive analytics, student success and retention, and the political philosophy of education. Prior to his position at CHEEDR, Beni worked as a research assistant for Andrew Norton at the Grattan Institute.


Thursday 15 April 2021

  • 11:00 am–12:00 pm — WA
  • 12:30 pm–1:30 pm — SA/NT
  • 1:00 pm–2:00 pm — QLD/NSW/ACT/VIC/TAS


This webinar is free to attend and will be live captioned and recorded. The captioned video will then be made available on the NCSEHE website.

If you cannot attend, please register your details and you will be sent a link to the recording after the event.

Register here

Posted 10 March 2021