NPP Projects

A Picture of Success

Lead University: University of New South Wales

Lead Researcher: Meryl Stone

Research Team: Meryl Stone, Todd Walton, Colin Clark and Leonie Ligertwood

Year Funded: 2014

Funding Received: $196,000

DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.6474065.v1



This project explored how the success of students from low SES backgrounds was impacted by their interaction with support and development initiatives offered at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Quantitative and qualitative methodologies were used to determine the impact of interaction on several academic success indicators. Findings showed that these interactions contributed in multiple and diverse ways to low SES student success.

Project Outline

  • The purpose of this project was to examine the success of low socioeconomic status (SES) background students at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and investigate the impact that student interactions with support initiatives had on this success by:
    • presenting a more complete picture of academic and graduate success of students from low SES backgrounds at UNSW;
    • determining any correlation between, or patterns in, low SES student success and interaction with support initiatives;
    • creating a robust source of data and evidence for future research, evaluation and policy development.
  • A profile of low SES students at UNSW was mapped and compared to the high and medium SES cohort in terms of demographics and academic performance indicators.
  • Outcomes were compared for interacting and non-interacting students across nine initiatives: The Learning Centre (consultations and workshops); Disability Services; the Advantage Development Program; Careers and Employment (consultations and workshops); Counselling and Psychological Services (consultations and workshops); and the Educational Support Service.
  • In examining success, the following quantitative indicators were examined:
    • Weighted Average Mark (WAM) before and after interaction with a support initiative
    • Academic standing before and after interaction
    • WAM at completion for students who interacted and those who did not
    • Discontinuation rate for students who interacted and those who did not.
  • Questionnaire and interview outcomes were also elicited to gain a better understanding of the issues facing low SES students, the severity of those issues and the impact they have on academic success.

Key Findings

  • University student support and development initiatives contributed in multiple and diverse ways to low SES student success and this diversity was a function of the distinct service missions of the providers.
  • The Learning Centre and Disability Services are primarily operated to help students succeed academically. Results from the study showed that low SES students who had interacted with these services demonstrated improved academic success.
  • The low SES students who had completed an Advantage Development Program showed significantly improved grades after interaction and significantly better grades at graduation. Narrative analysis of student data linked improved social engagement via development opportunities to improved academic performance.
  • A careers consultation served to significantly increase low SES student grades at program completion. Low SES groups found careers consultations significantly more helpful than their high SES peers and interview findings provided further evidence of this.
  • Low SES students seeking assistance from a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services had significantly lower grades after interaction — a direct contrast to the high SES group whose grades improved with consultation. These results may be a function of the severity of mental health issues in the low SES group rather than an indication of the effectiveness of the intervention.
  • Academic success indicators for students interacting with Educational Support Advisors suggest that these were the most at risk cohort in the study — they had the lowest grades at completion and lowest Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) at entry of any interacting group. Regardless, there was a significant improvement in the percentage of students on good academic standing after interaction, suggesting that this intervention was effective in improving academic success for this cohort.
  • The project confirmed the importance of ensuring low SES students have access to engagement, support and development services. The benefit these services provide is not exclusive to low SES students, though there is some evidence to suggest that academic improvements may be more pronounced in this cohort.


  • The evidence from the UNSW study can be used as a platform for future decision-making and policy development and to encourage further discussion and collaboration.
  • To corroborate, refute or extend the findings it would be of interest to repeat the study other institutions, particularly those that have high rates of participation of low SES students. Other groups may also be targeted for investigation – such as those from regional and remote areas and those from non-English speaking backgrounds. The study could also be extended to incorporate graduate success by using data from the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching graduate surveys.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 7 June 2018