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Identifying school engagement practices facilitating university participation of equity students

In Australia, a complex range of factors impact on the life chances of young people from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds, including:

  • unemployment and under-employment;
  • low-quality living environments;
  • discrimination;
  • poor or limited access to health and cultural services and technology; and
  • poor or limited information on, and access to, further and tertiary education.

At the same time, as in many other developed countries around the world, Australia has been undergoing significant change, further affecting young people. The increasingly rapid development and adoption of new technologies, including the internet, has impacted upon post-industrial career options and pathways, while the rising cost of housing, coupled with the increasingly casualised nature of the Australian labour market, has increased the level of economic and social uncertainty faced by our population.

These relatively recent developments have fundamentally changed the way people live their lives. Traditionally-accepted pathways – school to work, or school to an apprenticeship or university, for example – are now only a few in a range of different options available.

Dr Wojtek Tomaszewski from the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland is examining the choices young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face when considering whether or not to continue their education at a university, and identifying the key factors influencing their decision-making processes.

“The rise of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs since the early 1990s, coupled with the expansion of low-skilled, entry-level flexible service jobs, predominantly in the retail and hospitality sectors, have created attractive alternatives to higher education for many young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Dr Tomaszewski.

“I’m looking to understand the choices that disadvantaged students are presented with and how they ultimately decide what to do once they leave high school.”

“The literature tells us that much of a student’s decision-making process happens within the school environment, as a result of talking with careers advisors and teachers and as a result of personal levels of engagement at school and with the learning process.”

Dr Tomaszewski, with University of Queensland colleagues Dr Francisco Perales and Dr Ning Xiang, is using LSAY data and discrete-time Event History Analysis to pinpoint the specific in-school practices and behaviours, and out-of-school factors, that have the strongest effect on participation in higher education.

“If we can identify the factors that influence a student’s decision to go to university, we can, through public policy and equity practice, better target the programs delivered in schools, making the most of the funding available.”

Funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education via the 2016 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program, Dr Tomaszewski’s project will result in deliverables of research reports, academic papers, and presentations at The University of Queensland and to the Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility of the International Sociological Association, for dissemination and feedback purposes. The project will conclude in December 2016 after which time the reports and papers will be made available here on the NCSEHE website.

Dr Wojtek Tomaszewski holds degrees in mathematics and social sciences, and has a proven track record in designing and using complex data to study education and labour market outcomes for young people. He is an emerging leader in the field of educational research with a portfolio of successfully delivered projects.

Dr Francisco Perales holds a degree in sociology from London Metropolitan University, a Masters in Sociology and Panel Data Analysis from the University of Essex, and a PhD in Social and Economic Research from the Institute of Social and Economic Research. He has an enviable methodological expertise in the analysis of longitudinal survey datasets and will provide key contribution to statistical analyses for the project.

Dr Ning Xiang holds a degree in psychology and is an experienced researcher with a multi-disciplinary training background. She will provide expertise in the measurement of student engagement, and will take the responsibility for a bulk of data management and analytical tasks on the project.

Posted 30 May 2016 Posted in General, Low SES