NCSEHE 2021 Annual Report
Professor Sarah O’Shea
Building upon the work conducted by the NCSEHE in 2020, the Centre has continued to foreground educational equity across higher education policy, practice, and research. This eighth Annual Report details NCSEHE activities designed to build the connections between equity policymakers, researchers, and practitioners as well as provide a platform for innovative and timely research within the broad equity field.
The impacts of the pandemic continued throughout this year, but the NCSEHE team ensured that Centre activities addressed existing and emerging challenges across the higher education system. Despite disruptions caused by border closures, remote working conditions, university shutdowns, and ongoing uncertainty within the sector, the Centre managed and led research projects; provided leadership and commentary across the nation; provided universal access to student equity data; and continued to connect and engage with stakeholders through an extensive range of events and media communications.
Whilst the NCSEHE has been involved in an array of activities, of particular note are:
- working across commissioned research to translate findings to emerging areas of need including student mental health; equity responses to COVID-19; and supporting regional and rural students in their educational pursuits
- tripling staff publication outputs to ensure equity issues and research are foregrounded at an international scholarly level
- extending the program of online events including a webinar series designed to provide timely and accessible information relating to emerging and enduring equity issues
- working closely with Regional University Centres (RUCs) to create a national Network and online community of practice.
Alongside these activities, the Centre’s core mission continued to be met; namely, to improve the participation and success in higher education for marginalised and disadvantaged people. Meeting this objective was achieved through key priorities including strengthening Australia’s student equity in higher education research quality, capability, and capacity; supporting the building of a robust evidence base; informing institutional best practice and enhancing on-the-ground delivery of equity measures; and informing evidence-based public policy design and implementation.
Strengthening research quality, capability and capacity
As detailed in the Progress Report for the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), the Forward Research Plan, and the Director’s reports provided to the Advisory Board, the Centre has:
- continued its strong performance, meeting KPIs required to honour its contract with the Australian Government
- finalised the funding of 17 external competitive research grants, as part of the NCSEHE Conditions of Grant, this marks the conclusion of the NCSEHE competitive grants which has committed over A$1 million (2019–21) to produce collaborative and nationally-focused research
- concluded the 2019–20 NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program which saw six Fellowships awarded to researchers and practitioners across Australia to examine critical issues in relation to: Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) students (outreach work; participation in allied healthcare programs); regional and remote students (mental wellbeing among mature-aged students; student navigation through higher education); and students with disability (providing support to persons with disability in higher education; ensuring meaningful jobs for students with disability)
- completed a competitive grants program which funded four projects in the area of low socioeconomic status (SES) students and careers (A$900,000)
- maintained the NCSEHE’s visibility and reputation with internal and external stakeholders, including awareness of the Centre and its work both nationally and internationally
- invited researchers and equity practitioners (national and international) to contribute insights and blogs relating to key equity issues. This mix of practice- and research-based submissions was popular amongst end users due to the immediacy and transferability of the submissions
- continued to provide supervision for doctoral students, including the recruitment of a new PhD student.
Building the evidence base and leadership capacity
Throughout 2021, the Centre strove to ensure quality and timely research was conducted and that activities contributed to building capacity across the sector. Each of the Equity Fellows undertook research of national significance, producing progress and final reports as well as national and international dissemination activities.
During 2021, the Centre produced a number of key outputs, resources and publications including:
- The NCSEHE led the establishment of the RUC Network in collaboration with Geraldton Universities Centre (GUC) and the Country University Centre (CUC).The Network supports a community of practice amongst all RUCs in Australia, facilitating cooperation and ensuring Network activities are informed by the needs of RUC staff and stakeholders. In 2021, the network, under the leadership of the NCSEHE: 1) conducted a gaps analysis on the skills existing within the Network and developing supports that respond to these gaps; 2) provided training and developed bespoke support materials including targeted webinars for RUC staff; and 3) developed a RUC Network website for the RUCs and other stakeholders.
- Senior Research Fellow Dr Nicole Crawford published resources for staff and universities on supporting students’ mental wellbeing. Nicole also worked with a variety of universities to embed these practices within their student support and teaching areas.
- The Student Voice project continued with updates from student participants. Over the last five years, this unique and important longitudinal study has documented the “lived experiences” of equity drawing upon student-curated narratives and vlogs.
- NCSEHE Adjunct Fellow Professor Maria Raciti published an editorial exploring possible futures for widening participation (WP) post-pandemic, beginning with changes to the language around WP.
- NCSEHE Equity Fellows produced additional outputs from Fellowships including a website, videos, podcasts, and presentations, all of which have been received positively across the sector.
Collaborations to inform institutional best practice
In addition to partnering with universities across the sector to conduct rigorous equity research, the NCSEHE also sustained ongoing collaborations with national organisations (the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training [ADCET] and Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia [EPHEA]) including partnering with EPHEA to again host World Access to Higher Education Day Australasia in November 2021.
WAHED was themed as a celebratory and congratulatory event for all equity practitioners, with a keynote delivered by NCSEHE Adjunct Fellow Maria Raciti, who tackled the question, “What’s the next step to help low SES students navigate perceived risk during these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times?” The event also featured a disability practitioner and student panel, discussing important accessibility considerations when returning to an on-campus learning model. The popular Champions for Change initiative celebrated almost 150 nominees.
EPHEA and the NCSEHE also launched the Australasian Spotlight on Equity: Grants for Recognition of Impact, to recognise the impact of equity practitioners and researchers. This inaugural recognition was competitively awarded to two grant recipients: Career Success Program, RMIT University; and The Experiences of Students from Asylum-Seeking backgrounds in Higher Education initiative, Monash University. The recipients of these grants will undertake a series of activities throughout 2022 to inform evidence-based equity practices.
As universities plan to resume operations in 2022 with a return to on-campus activities, the NCSEHE will continue to adopt to new environments and challenges ensuring ongoing currency across the equity sector.