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Higher education career advice for students from low SES backgrounds — Project update

In 2019, the NCSEHE commissioned four large-scale projects to improve access to information about higher education study options, pathways, and careers for disadvantaged students and those who influence them.

Higher education career advice for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, led by Kylie Austin (University of Wollongong) is one of the successful projects currently underway.

Here in their second project newsletter, they update us on their progress, including the publication of the Literature Review, Desktop Audit and Guide to Partnerships.

Welcome to the second newsletter for the research project Higher education career advice for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds which is funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE). The aim of the project is to critically investigate best practice initiatives that relate to career development learning (CDL) for students from diverse backgrounds.

What is career development learning?

Our extensive review of the literature has led the project team to adopt the term career development learning (CDL) for the future work related to the project over narrower terms such as career advice and career guidance. McMahon, Patton and Tatham (2003, p.6) define CDL as:

‘learning about the content and process of career development or life/ career management. The content of CDL in essence represents learning about self and learning about the world of work. Process learning represents the development of the skills necessary to navigate a successful and satisfying life/career.’

Essentially, this definition highlights the need for students to learn both knowledge and skills in career/ life management and acknowledges that this may occur with or without intervention (McMahon et al., 2003). Crucially however, CDL may be assisted and fostered through appropriate and intentional career services and programs, and is an important goal of schooling (McMahon et al., 2003). The aim of this project is to identify best practices which achieve the goal of supporting CDL for students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds in schools.


We are happy to report that the Literature Review, Desktop Audit and Guide to Partnerships have been published and can be found on our website.

The Literature Review focused on the literature regarding CDL and covered topics such as the new work reality, youth employment, and CDL in the education system.

The Desktop Audit was an online audit of CDL for students within the education system, private companies and non-profit companies. The Desktop Audit presented 3 case studies to highlight how the CDL aligned with best practice.

The Guide to Partnerships is a document designed for practitioners to form partnerships to enable the effective provision of CDL. Partnerships are important because they enable organisations to work together to achieve a common goal.

In addition, an earlier progress report for NCSEHE can be found here.

​Stage 1 complete

The Career Project has completed Stage 1 which entailed interviewing key stakeholders, parents and university students. Face-to-face and phone interviews yielded the following interview responses:

  • Career practitioners: 16 interviews
  • Students: 27 interviews
  • Parents: three interviews

In addition, online surveys which asked the same questions as the face-to-face and phone interviews produced a great response, as shown below:

  • Students: 45 responses
  • Parents: 38 responses

The quality and quantity of responses ensured rich data for analysis. Although analysis is still underway, initial interpretations are that career practitioners were keen for careers to be embedded in the curriculum as “that really ignites the future for young people”, and that positive role-modelling of “people who have walked the path that these students are walking…is absolutely key”.

Parents hoped for guidance surrounding the options available for their children so that “you’re not feeling like you’re left totally by yourself, making it up as you go along”, and students wished they knew more about the pathways available to them when they were still at school. One student commented that “I didn’t really know a lot about what options there were other than what you could think of in your head and what you saw and what your parents did”, and other students wished that they had known “that there were so many more pathways available”.

Current activity

Stage 2 of the Career Project has commenced and includes pilot programs based on the Best Practice Principles developed as part of the project.

  1. The University of Wollongong will be conducting a Professional Development workshop for teaching staff at a school with a high proportion of students from low SES backgrounds. The workshop will equip teaching staff with strategies to foster a whole of school approach to CDL.
  2. The University of Tasmania is embedding an intervention in their University Preparation Program which targets students who may be unaware of the range of courses available at university and which course best aligns with their interests. This event provides opportunities for students to talk with industry representatives and with university graduates.
  3. The University of Technology Sydney, will be implementing a workshop for parents that provides career and higher education advice. This equips parents with the information to talk to their children about careers and future education.

Pilot programs for the University of Canberra and Australian Catholic University will be getting underway shortly.

Next steps for the project

Evaluation data from the pilots will be collected and analysed. The findings from this will be used to further inform and refine the Best Practice Principles for CDL for students from low SES backgrounds. It is anticipated that the Final Report and Best Practice Principles will be available on the UOW and NCSEHE websites by the end of the year.


We continue to encourage you to be part of the project by reading the updates, sharing the newsletter with colleagues, and contributing to the online repository with programs, relevant literature and ideas that relate to the field of CDL for students from low SES backgrounds. Your feedback is important to our research and we welcome you to visit the project webpage.

Posted 8 June 2020 Posted in General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote