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NCSEHE research project update — Widening Participation or Widening the Gap? Equity in Postgraduate Study

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.

Widening Participation or Widening the Gap? Equity in Postgraduate Study, led by Dr Deanna Grant-Smith (Queensland University of Technology), is one of the 13 projects selected in the 2017 funding round.


There has been an emphasis on widening participation in higher education in Australia in recent years. However, relative to efforts to increase the participation of equity groups in undergraduate education, there has been a lesser focus on postgraduate participation. This research explores equity trends in participation in postgraduate study.

Project activities

A true measure of the success of widening participation policy needs to focus beyond measurement at the point of access. Through student data analysis, the research team aims to identify equity trends in postgraduate enrolment, completions, and employment outcomes. This analysis will also identify variance of these factors within, and between, university types to highlight patterns and broader trends within Australian higher education.

The project also incorporates an analysis of university marketing documentation—such as prospectuses, strategic plans and websites—to provide insights into the ways that discourses in educational institutions can reproduce economic and social privilege and inequalities.

A student from the Queensland University of Technology Vacation Research Experience Scheme (VRES) was engaged during the literature review component of the research, contributing to the collation and review of literature relating to Indigenous postgraduate outcomes.

Preliminary findings:

The literature review has revealed that, while participation is being widened across the sector, it is far wider in some institutions than others and argues that non-elite universities cater for disproportionally high numbers of students with low socioeconomic status (SES). This underrepresentation is more marked in certain types of universities. The UK elite universities, referred to as Russell Group Universities, have been found to have significantly lower levels of enrolment of British ethnic minority students.

Focusing on domestic students, overall, data analysis has shown that more than two-fifths of postgraduate students fall into at least one equity group. More postgraduate students identify as being from regional and remote areas (18 per cent) or as low SES (12 per cent) than as being a student with a disability or being from a non-English speaking background (five per cent). Only one per cent identify as a Torres Strait Islander and/or Aboriginal person. Importantly, a significant number of students identify as belonging to more than one equity group.

There are differences between both university type and university which are being further explored alongside the qualitative data.

The final report, Widening Participation or Widening the Gap? Equity in Postgraduate Study will be published on the NCSEHE website in 2020.

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

Posted 2 July 2018 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, Disability, Editorial, General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote