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NCSEHE 2016 Equity Fellowship report: ‘Fair connection to professional careers’ by Erica Southgate

Research published this month from 2016 Equity Fellow Associate Professor Erica Southgate has revealed a significant deficit in equity students’ representation in high-status degrees. Fair connection to professional careers: Understanding social difference and disadvantage, institutional dynamics and technological opportunities examined the underrepresentation of non-traditional students in high-status professions such as medicine, law, architecture and engineering, with a particular focus on students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds.

The Fellowship approached underrepresentation from different perspectives to provide a picture of barriers and enablers, including: literature research; case studies on aspirations; analysis of student experiences; a thematic mapping of issues; and a primer on emerging digital technologies.

Abstract

People from equity groups are underrepresented in university degrees associated with high-status professions. The reasons for this are complex and relate to poverty, familial and community norms and expectations, inequitable access to high quality and adequately resourced schooling which affects achievement, and continuing incorrect deficit assumptions related to people’s socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds The application of new and emerging digital technologies could improve equity students’ participation in these careers by motivating and enhancing disciplinary learning and creating authentic connections to higher education and the world of work.

Background

Australian higher education participation data indicates that people from equity groups are underrepresented in university degrees associated with high-status professions, particularly at elite universities. Poverty, familial and community norms and expectations, inequitable access to high quality and adequately resourced schooling, and continuing incorrect deficit assumptions related people’s socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Career education in Australian schools is often of particular concern and can be a very marginal part of the curriculum. Career advisors in low income school communities often have more limited capacity to assist all their students, with working class students mainly getting ‘working class work experience’.

New and emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, may provide a solution for creating opportunities for students from equity groups for deeper disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning and more authentic connection to post-school education and the world of work.

Objectives and Methodology

The project examined the underrepresentation of non-traditional students in high-status professions such as medicine, law, architecture, information and communications technology (ICT) and engineering, with a particular focus on students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds.

The Fellowship approached underrepresentation from different perspectives to provide a picture of barriers and enablers. It included:

  • a literature research
  • an analysis of 2015 higher education participation trends for high status Fields of Education
  • a case study of the post-school aspirations of regional youth
  • an analysis of first-in-family student experience of high-status degrees
  • a national consultation of experts in the field of widening participation, educational equity and high-status degrees
  • a primer on emerging digital technologies for deeper learning and career education.

2015 undergraduate and post-graduate enrolment data was analysed, including data from prestige courses (information technology; engineering; architecture; medical studies; physiotherapy; and law), provided for four equity groups (low SES; Indigenous; regional; and remote).These were categorised by university type: Group of Eight (Go8) or other universities.

The research project also provided an analysis of the Aspirations Longitudinal Study to produce a nuanced case study of the post-school education and career aspirations of regional youth experiencing disadvantage. The case study drew on focus group data from 77 high school students and 14 educators to explore the how post-school education is considered by young people and the marginalisation of career education in these schools.

In addition, interviews were conducted with 25 national experts in higher education, educational equity and high status degrees. This data points to both tensions that exist in ‘opening up’ prestigious degrees and potential solutions.

Read more here.

Posted 19 September 2017 Posted in General, Low SES, NCSEHE Equity Fellows