NPP Projects

A Comparative Study of the Equity Strategies Employed by Australian Universities

Lead University: CQUniversity

Lead Researcher: Denise Wood

Research Team: Denise Wood, Mary McLeod, Kerri Viragh, Marcia Devlin, Angela Hill, Andrew Harvey, Anna Bennett, Jo Hanley, Geoff Whitty and Karen Nelson

Year Funded: 2015

Funding Received: $156,685


This project examined the strategies undertaken by six Australian universities in prioritising, managing and evaluating HEPPP funded initiatives to increase access, participation and outcomes for people from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Analysis of university documentation, stakeholder interviews and university partner case studies informed good practice guidelines and recommendations for the Australian Government to improve the impact of HEPPP funding.

Project Outline

  • The project involved a collaboration of six Australian universities on the approaches that guide their prioritisation, management and evaluation of HEPPP funded initiatives to increase access, participation and outcomes for people from low SES backgrounds.
  • The project aims were to:
    • explore the processes undertaken to prioritise, select, manage and evaluate HEPPP equity initiatives
    • contribute to transformative change for students from low SES backgrounds
    • provide in-depth case studies describing the equity-related strategies of partner universities
    • develop good practice guidelines for the wider higher education community.
  • The approach involved mapping each university’s documentation; producing a thematic analysis of stakeholder interviews; analysis of university partner case studies; developing good practice guidelines; and producing recommendations for the Australian Government.

Key Findings

  • Key findings were made from the mapping of university equity documentation, thematic analysis of stakeholder interviews, and case studies. These provided the guidelines for good practice and recommendations.
  • Analysis of university documentation found a range of approaches adopted by partner universities including:
    • Senior executive leadership groups determined the funding of initiatives likely to have the greatest impact for the university.
    • A hybrid approach was used whereby some funds were quarantined for institution-wide projects, with the remainder allocated to specific initiatives based on calls for proposals.
    • A research centre advises a senior leadership group about the allocation of funds.
    • All HEPPP funds were allocated to initiatives selected by a senior leadership group following an open call for proposals.
  • Stakeholder interviews found:
    • There was variation in the awareness levels of staff depending on their role, with more senior staff having a clearer understanding of broader equity issues.
    • There was a collective view that there were considerable benefits in sharing the findings of HEPPP funded initiatives across the sector.
    • Stakeholders thought that students should participate in the evaluation of HEPPP initiatives.
    • Stakeholders agreed that HEPPP funding was critical and that funding cycles should be longer than a year to allow adequate planning of initiatives, which should be evaluated over longer periods.
  • Case studies reflected the diversity of the participant universities:
    • The case studies showed a rich diversity of contexts that should inform equity initiatives.
  • Good practice guidelines were produced based on the findings. Seven guidelines were developed, focusing on:
    • aligning HEPPP initiatives with institutional strategies and values
    • embedding evaluation into HEPPP prioritisation, management and monitoring strategy
    • providing institutional support to build capacity for evaluating HEPPP initiatives
    • focusing on program sustainability and longevity
    • developing collaborative multi-partner initiatives that benefit students from low SES backgrounds and their communities across geographical regions
    • disseminating and sharing project findings across the institution and wider sector
    • promoting students’ voices in the design of programs.


  • The report made seven recommendations to the Australian Government to improve the impact of HEPPP funding at the national level:
  • Support the community structures and relationships that enable students from low SES backgrounds to access and succeed in higher education by ensuring continuity of funding over longer funding cycles.
  • Continue HEPPP funding support for initiatives aimed at improving access for people from low SES backgrounds and underrepresented groups, and ongoing funding support for students already enrolled, who are financially disadvantaged.
  • Establish and monitor the implementation of a national framework for evaluating equity initiatives to build the evidence base.
  • Extend the scope of how the impact of HEPPP initiatives are assessed, recognising the unique differences across university contexts and the importance of mixed methods evaluation approaches.
  • Promote student equity research through: continuing support for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE); continuing and extending National Priorities Pool (NPP) research grants; publishing NPP research reports on the NCSEHE website; disseminating and publicising NPP research reports and NCSEHE reports in mainstream media.
  • Increase transparency and visibility of HEPPP by publishing institutional HEPPP reports on a clearinghouse web page, similar to the publication of institutional access agreements by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) in the United Kingdom.
  • Increase accountability of institutions for HEPPP funded use by moving evaluation criteria from a project level approach to more strategic understandings of efficacy.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.

Posted 15 October 2018