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

This is the third progress update for the NCSEHE-funded research project, Higher education career advice for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Led by Kylie Austin (University of Wollongong), this is one of four large-scale projects commissioned by the NCSEHE in 2019 to improve access to information about higher education study options, pathways, and careers for disadvantaged students and those who influence them.

Completed activity

Data collection for this project has been completed. The project employed a mixed methods approach to understand best practice career development learning (CDL) for students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds from a range of perspectives. First, qualitative data was obtained via interviews and surveys with parents, students and stakeholders in CDL. Then, a range of CDL programs were designed and implemented according to Best Practice Principles and evaluated empirically. The programs include:

  • a series of professional development workshops for high school teachers to promote a whole school approach to CDL
  • a unit of study on ‘Industries of the Future’ for university preparation program students
  • a careers breakfast for parents of high school students in three schools
  • careers knowledge exchange workshops for high school students from rural, regional and remote areas.

One final program has been planned, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, cannot yet be implemented.

  • workshops and mentoring by University students of primary school students.

Current activity

Through the method outlined above, a comprehensive picture of current career provision for students from diverse backgrounds and the programs which might best support them has been achieved. Currently, the research team is compiling a set of rich and interesting findings and important recommendations for policy and practice. Some of the findings being conceptually developed include:

Effective career advice – A game of chance

The provision of CDL in schools is diverse in terms of when students are provided with access to CDL (i.e. what stage of the curriculum); and how (i.e. individual consultations, career activities or embedded lessons in the curriculum). There is no coordinated approach to the delivery of career advice. Students cited feeling ‘lucky’ that they had met someone who provided them with this information.

Preparing students for multiple possible pathways rather than tying them to one journey

There is evidence that university is seen as the preferred post-school pathway, with trades and vocational education are undervalued (aligns with the Joyce & Shergold Reviews). Students are being pigeonholed into specific careers or particular school pathways, rather than encouraging them to explore multiple pathways. It is important to expose students to ‘career clusters’ and help them understand that careers are fluid and that life-long learning is required.

The nature and role of partnerships in providing CDL

The primary approach to CDL partnerships was what we are describing as a ‘hub and spoke’ model – that is, a model which had the school at the centre of the partnership and universities, non-for-profit organisations, vocational education providers, government agencies and industry as individual stakeholders connecting linearly with the school. However, more effective CDL is provided as part of collaborative, multi-stakeholder partnerships managed by a separate organisational entity who acts as a broker or pivot point; and co-designed between stakeholders so that CDL opportunities can be tailored to the needs of student groups.

Next steps for the project

The Best Practice Principles for CDL for students from low SES backgrounds will be finalised and published together with the Final Report on the UOW and NCSEHE websites by the end of the year. In addition, a series of journal articles which explore the findings in greater depth have been planned for publication in 2021.

The findings and recommendations of the project will be also disseminated via conferences, blogs and other avenues as they become available.


An article was published in August on the AARE EduResearch Matters website, titled Changes to career advice needed now more than ever. This article outlines findings from the project. This is a great article to share with colleagues.

Reminder: A Literature Review, Desktop Audit and Guide to Partnerships have been published and can be found on our website.


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 website.

Posted 31 August 2020 Posted in General, Low SES