Student equity accountability: A billion-dollar issue
Half of all domestic students now belong to a designated equity group, supported by a multi-billion dollar Commonwealth investment, but optimising accountability for this public expenditure is challenging in an increasingly complex and dynamic higher education system.
New research by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education Equity Fellow Matt Brett (La Trobe University) has identified opportunities for recalibrating and strengthening evaluation at a system level, through a process-driven approach.
“The case for equity is now more of an imperative than an option, and while student equity is framed at system, group, local and individual levels, accountability is not.” Mr Brett said.
“Australian governments have actively enabled the transition from an elite to a high-participation higher education system; however, some groups are still under-represented. Student equity goals would be more readily achieved if aligned with effective accountability practices.”
The research Fellowship sought to investigate at a system level how student equity goals are described, set and advanced, and who is accountable for them.
Policy and planning systems across Australian universities were explored through analysis of higher education policy frameworks and integrated analysis of higher education statistics, and stakeholder interviews and surveys.
Four strategic priorities for change were identified, including: refinement of equity goals; improving information management; embedding student equity goals across the higher education system; and the analysis, reporting and communication of outcomes.
“Findings from this Fellowship informed an Operational Framework for Equity and Accountability—providing direction to policymakers and institutional leaders—through which the four strategic priorities for change can generate continuous system-wide reforms,” Mr Brett said.
“The application of this Framework offers informed direction to refine accountability systems and move toward the most effective and efficient application of public funding.”
National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the broad implications for the sector from this report — one of six projects funded through the Equity Fellows Program.
“Student equity in higher education is universally recognised as a key priority, and significant public funding has been allocated to improving outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Professor Trinidad said.
“Accountability for performance against clearly defined equity goals is fundamental in measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of this expenditure. I am pleased that stakeholders are currently considering what form this may take.”
The Equity Fellows Program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.
Read the full report, Equity Performance and Accountability here.
Nina-Marie Thomas, NCSEHE Media and Communications Officer
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