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Project update — A student-centred approach: Understanding higher education pathways through co-design

In 2019, the NCSEHE commissioned four large-scale projects to improve access to information about higher education study options, pathways, and careers for disadvantaged students and those who influence them.

With a particular focus on low socioeconomic status (SES), regional and remote, and Indigenous students, the research projects are being conducted under the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment National Priorities Pool (NPP) program.

Understanding higher education pathways through co-design: A student-centred approach, led by Dr Mollie Dollinger (La Trobe University), is one of the successful projects currently underway.


What if universities and government bodies no longer had to assume what students, teachers and carers needed regarding resources and programs to aid decision making around higher education pathways? What if, rather than being “respondents” in research, students, teachers and carers were “co-creators”? This project aims to achieve just that by using co-design methods to understand students’ and carers’ ideas, experiences and perceptions around pathways to higher education.

The project constitutes a wide-ranging study seeking to explore views regarding higher education pathways held by Year 7 and 8 students, their carers (e.g., parents, family and community leaders), and teachers. Data will be collected from a total of 20 regional and/or remote schools in low socioeconomic areas across four Australian states (Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland).

The method of data collection and analysis adopted in this project reflects an innovative approach to gleaning the authentic thoughts and ideas of participants. Specifically, the strategy of “co-design” will be applied in workshops with student, carer and teacher participants. Activities that support co-design will include role playing, mind maps and storyboarding. These activities will offer participants a unique opportunity to not only freely share their ideas on how support and resources could be improved but learn the tenets of design methodology which they can later re-apply to other projects.

This study will deliver valuable insight into higher education pathways in the Middle Years of schooling and provide each participating school context-specific toolkits for parents and for teachers. The toolkits will synthesise the data from each school and consist of strategies and recommendations teachers and supporters can adopt to assist students in their higher education decision making.

Project activities and preliminary findings

As an introduction to the concept of co-designing with students, a handbook has been published and will be distributed to all participating schools.

Pilot workshops conducted with Victorian students and teachers have provided the following preliminary findings:

  • Students in Years 7 and 8 often held beliefs that it was too early to start thinking about higher education pathways and/or careers.
  • Students with the most developed ideas on future career paths/higher education often indicated their information came from the self-driven internet searches.
  • Regional/rural students associated higher education pathways with students from wealthy families and did not know about financial support available to them.
  • Teachers expressed that outreach programs need to develop a “whole of person” approach to ensure students and carers remain committed and engaged.
  • Teachers felt they were not best positioned to provide advice about potential future jobs and advice for students on how best to achieve career goals.
  • Teachers felt interventions for students needed to start early (even before Years 7 and 8) and needed to foster a sense of “purpose” in school environments to ensure students’ deep engagement.
  • Co-design approaches to gaining students’ and teachers’ feedback is an appropriate means of data collection.

Read more about the Competitive Grants Program and successful projects.

Posted 17 March 2020 Posted in General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote