Repositioning HEPPP for even greater success
An Australian-first comprehensive analysis of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) has informed recommendations for systemic change in policy and practice in student equity, and set benchmarks for a national evaluation framework reflecting broader measures of success.
The research by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellow Dr Nadine Zacharias from Deakin University examined how the HEPPP initiative had been implemented by universities and whether it had met government aspirations for achieving student equity in higher education.
“While HEPPP is arguably the most important shaper of equity in higher education, there has been no national investigation of the design and implementation of institutional HEPPP programs in different universities and how these programs contribute to student outcomes at institutional and sector levels,” Dr Zacharias said.
The project incorporated five interrelated components, including an analysis of HEPPP annual progress reports, three institutional cases studies and an engagement strategy with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training and key stakeholders across the sector.
“A key finding is that HEPPP has provided an opportunity for universities to develop bespoke equity programs which respond to their institutional profile and strategic priorities,” Dr Zacharias said.
“At sector level, participation by students from low socioeconomic backgrounds has increased but outcomes at institutional level were uneven. While the impact of institutional HEPPP programs on student outcomes is difficult to establish empirically, strategic intent was an important variable, while the volume of HEPPP funding had substantial influence on equity strategy and practice.”
The project produced a set of diagnostic tools, an interpretative model and an Equity Initiatives Map, to enable analyses of HEPPP program design and implementation that can assist institutional equity strategy and performance.
“HEPPP has produced a broad range of outcomes for universities, their partners and students but many important outcomes are not currently visible to decision-makers. They are captured as the ‘Major Aims’ in the Equity Initiatives Map which could be used as a starting point to develop a more comprehensive suite of evaluation tools in the context of a national HEPPP evaluation framework,” Dr Zacharias said.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the value of providing evidence-based tools in delivering the best possible outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds through HEPPP funded initiatives at a national level.
“The barriers to accessing higher education for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are many and complex, and while HEPPP funded initiatives are central to supporting these students in their tertiary education journey, outcomes are not always measurable by participation and completion rates alone,” Professor Trinidad said.
“Dr Zacharias’s work through this NCSEHE Equity Fellowship project provides evidence-based directives which have the potential to shape the future design and management of HEPPP funded initiatives.”
The full report, The Australian Student Equity Program and Institutional Change: Paradigm Shift or Business as Usual? is available here on the NCSEHE website.
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