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NCSEHE research project update — Success and failure in higher education on uneven playing fields

The NCSEHE conducts an annual Research Grants Program, building a solid evidence base to improve higher education access and outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Success and failure in higher education on uneven playing fields, led by Associate Professor Bernadette Walker-Gibbs (Deakin University) is one of the 13 projects selected in the 2017 funding round.


This research examines students’ aspiration, success and failure within their first experiences of assessment at university to improve knowledge and practice to better support students from low socioeconomic (SES) groups.

Exploring forms of “capital” that first year university students draw upon from their prior schooling to support their transitional journey into higher education, the research aims to better understand contributing influences on students to ensure success in higher education.

Pull quote Bernadette Walker-Gibbs

Multiple-methods and a large-scale data set are utilised, to examine whether student aspiration, success and failure in higher education is informed and influenced by individual and school-based markers of social disadvantage and segregation.

Project activities and preliminary findings

The research team is currently conducting student focus groups and collecting and analysing data across two universities — Deakin University and the University of Wollongong.

Initial findings indicate the complex determinants of success are not well represented in key policy documents and research literature — a disparity that this project aims to begin to address.

The future implications of more segregated school systems are being explored in relation to: who is able to access higher education in the near future; and the conceptions of merit/success and failure for marginalised, First-in-Family and disadvantaged students. These are issues which may not necessarily be exclusive to Australia.

Pull quote Bernadette Walker-Gibbs

Preliminary secondary analysis of data from four university courses and over 6,000 students is well underway, looking at correlations between different predictors of failure. Those that are significantly correlated will be entered as predictors in a regression model to identify which are contributing most to failure.

The final report, Success and failure in higher education on uneven playing fields will be published on the NCSEHE website later in 2018.

More information about the projects funded under the 2017 Research Grants Program is available here.

Posted 24 July 2018 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, Disability, General, Indigenous, Low SES