The NCSEHE Building Legacy and Capacity Workshop Series
The Building Legacy and Capacity Workshop Series is a strategic initiative by the NCSEHE to explore in depth four topics chosen from the ‘Ten Conversations’ conducted during the NCSEHE Forum in November 2016. This new strategy aims to further extend the NCSEHE’s capacity in synthesising, codifying and disseminating learnings from equity research and practice and use them to inform future initiatives, studies and policy.
The objectives of the workshops are to:
- define a collective knowledge base informed by research and practice
- engage in strategic and action planning to guide institutional practice and future research
- develop evidence-informed policy advice.
Each workshop consists of an invited group of participants, including researchers, practitioners, policymakers and community partners, who contribute their insights as subject matter experts. Taking recent research findings and case studies of good practice as the starting point, the workshops are structured around high-level questions which frame the group discussion. The outcomes of the discussion will be shared widely across the sector, including via a webinar, written materials and professional illustrations. All workshop resources will be made available on the NCSEHE website.
The first workshop in the series put a spotlight on career development for students in low socioeconomic status (SES) or regional/remote high schools. Young people face a complex and uncertain landscape in trying to identify potential career paths. For equity practitioners, researchers and policymakers, there are a series of questions about the nature of the problem and the best ways to support young people during this critical time.
How do we ensure that young people have all the information and tools available to them to make informed and confident decisions about their post-school pathways? What additional barriers exist for young people in schools and communities that do not have ready access to relevant and high-quality information, experiences and resources about possible career paths, including those that lead into the most prestigious professions? To what extent do school-university partnerships help overcome these barriers? Are government policy and programs ideally designed to support informed decision making by young people in disadvantaged communities? Do policymakers and practitioners in schools and universities have comprehensive evidence of effective strategies and approaches to design successful interventions? What will the changing nature of work and the skills required for a new work order mean for the design and delivery of career advice?
In trying to resolve these questions and work towards evidence-informed advice to policymakers and practitioners, this workshop brought together a group of subject matter experts who approached the topic from different perspectives. These included researchers who have explored students’ decision making patterns, the kinds of career advice that young people find useful and the ways in which they navigate increasingly complex career choices and entry pathways.
At the same time, we learned from equity practitioners, and their school-based collaborators, who have designed and implemented school-university partnerships that aim to support young people in making informed and confident decisions about post-school options. The featured case studies have adopted different initiative designs, including place-based, embedded, blended (face-to-face and online) and near-peer mentoring approaches, which enable different scale and depth.
The second workshop in the series focused on the higher education participation and completion outcomes of regional and remote students. While Australian universities have engaged in strategic efforts to address the lower participation and completion rates of regional and remote students for many years, there is currently renewed interest by the Australian Government: an Interdepartmental Committee on Access to Higher Education for Regional and Remote Students, budget announcements of targeted scholarships and eight regional study hubs as well as a government-commissioned review into equitable education access for regional and remote students.
It is clear that regional and remote students as well as regional higher education institutions face structural challenges that impact on participation and completion outcomes. The recent Higher Education Standards Panel discussion paper identified institutional and student characteristics associated with higher attrition rates which correlate with regional universities and their diverse student cohorts. At the same time, regional institutions do the heavy lifting in attracting students from regional and remote backgrounds to higher education and graduating them, notwithstanding an increasing flow of regional and remote students to metropolitan universities.
For equity practitioners, researchers and policymakers, there remain questions about the nature of the problem and the best ways to support people in regional and remote locations to access and succeed in higher education.
- How can universities successfully mitigate the structural challenges faced by their (potential) student cohort, especially regional institutions which themselves suffer from systemic disadvantage?
- How do universities create both flexibility and consistency in the student experience for a cohort which increases in diversity with increased distance from (metropolitan) campuses? Do these strategies work for Indigenous students who make up a significantly larger share of regional and remote cohorts then metropolitan ones?
- How do institutions manage critical first encounters, clarify expectations, address the diverse and often complex needs of students and create a sense of belonging in a massified system looking for further efficiencies?
- Should policy approaches focus on creating scale and critical mass or on delivering local support to smaller and more remote communities?
- Is it possible to move beyond geographical limitations to create supportive, technology-enabled third spaces?
In trying to resolve these questions and work towards evidence-based advice to policymakers and practitioners, this workshop brought together a group of subject matter experts who come at the topic from different perspectives. These include researchers who have explored migration and completion patterns of regional and remote students, provided a more finely grained picture of the remote student cohort in particular and highlighted the importance of effective online delivery to any successful strategy.
At the same time, we learned from equity practitioners, and senior managers, who have designed and implemented university-wide strategies or initiatives to support students from regional and remote backgrounds in accessing and succeeding in higher education. The featured case studies provide insights into both strategic approaches and tailored interventions to improve participation and completion outcomes for students from regional and remote backgrounds. The workshop also includes the voices and insights of policymakers who have the opportunity to set the framework and provide incentives for addressing the structural barriers to equitable outcomes for individuals in regional and remote locations and the universities they choose to attend.
The third workshop in the series, at The University of Sydney on Friday 6 April 2018, put a spotlight on data sovereignty and the importance of listening to Indigenous perspectives on evaluation in Indigenous higher education.
Within Australia, the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (Behrendt, Larkin, Griew, & Kelly, 2012) provided a clear mandate for investing in policies and programs that support Indigenous pathways, participation and achievement in higher education. While there have been notable investments and significant national reforms in Indigenous higher education over the past few years, the recommendation within the Behrendt Review to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework is yet to be actioned. Similarly, in 2015 prior to its abolishment, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council recommended the development of a ‘performance framework’, which is also yet to be actioned. This means there are no frameworks or practice guidelines to inform future success in evaluation in Indigenous higher education in Australia. Focused discussion through the workshop and subsequent webinar will aim to partially address this gap.
James Smith and Kim Robertson provided a brief introduction about what is currently known about evaluation in Indigenous higher education contexts in Australia, followed by findings from James Smith’s 2017 Equity Fellowship project hosted at Charles Darwin University and sponsored by the NCSEHE. It is envisaged these findings will help to frame subsequent workshop and webinar dialogue about potential success factors and good practice principles that could shape improvements in evaluation in Indigenous higher education in Australia. This will mark the commencement of what is hoped to be an ongoing national conversation about this important topic.
The final workshop in the Building Legacy and Capacity series, co-facilitated by Matt Brett (NCSEHE and La Trobe University) and Nadine Zacharias (NCSEHE), puts a spotlight on the long-term strategic vision for student equity in higher education.
Each of the NCSEHE Equity Fellows have brought a fresh perspective to the challenges associated with equity in higher education, spanning equity groups; pedagogy; evaluation; institutional practice; and accountability. The issues and challenges surfaced by each of the Fellows can, at least in part, be attributed to the inability of existing policy frameworks to reimagine the vision for student equity as the higher education system has expanded and evolved.
The challenges of expanding higher education systems were well described by Martin Trow in his typology of elite, mass and universal participation. Australia is at the cusp of universal participation. Over 50 per cent of the school leaver cohort now access tertiary education (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing 2016 Table Builder). For a small number of communities, 100 per cent of school leavers were enrolled at university at the age of 19 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing 2016 Table Builder).
It is timely to critically assess whether the strategic vision for equity in higher education is fit for purpose for both the current day, let alone for the future development of a system that will educate a rising share of the population.
In examining the strategic vision for equity in Australian higher education, this workshop brings together a group of invited subject matter experts who come at the topic from different perspectives, including:
- researchers who have provided thought leadership in their work into equity in Australian higher education
- equity practitioners at the cutting edge of practice in advancing equity in Australian higher education
- policymakers who have positional responsibility for equity issues within government
- policy influencers who shape policy through leadership roles, research and/or practice.