Enhancing Self-disclosure of Equity Group Membership
Lead University: University of New South Wales
Lead Researcher: Colin Clark
Research Team: Colin Clark, Matthew Wilkinson and Rita Kusevskis-Hayes
Year Funded: 2016
Funding Received: $147,747
A significant proportion of students belonging to equity groups do not disclose their status to tertiary institutions, and are therefore ineligible for the support to which they are entitled. This project investigated self-disclosure of equity group membership among three groups: Indigenous, students with disabilities and non-English-speaking backgrounds. Mixed-methods research informed a set of guidelines to improve outcomes for equity students, and increase rates of self-disclosure.
- Students who are members of equity groups constitute a significant and growing population in Australian’s higher education sector. Many have special requirements, owing to physical, mental, socioeconomic and cultural factors. A significant proportion of students in these groups do not disclose their status to tertiary institutions and are ineligible for support to which they are entitled.
- The project investigated self-disclosure of equity group membership among three equity groups: Indigenous, students with disabilities and non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB).
- There were four research questions:
- How many students in the three equity groups do not disclose their equity status?
- How do students disclose in Australia’s tertiary sector?
- Why do students choose to disclose their equity status?
- When do students choose not to disclose their equity status?
- The project was a mixed methods study with quantitative and qualitative components, comprising:
- a survey of students at 35 Australian universities, via email lists, newsletters, websites and social media
- a survey of staff at 29 Australian universities via the same channels
- interviews with students in the chosen equity groups.
- Quantitative data were analysed using Bayesian regression modeling, a method that compensates for imbalances in data and small sample sizes.
- Staff responses to surveys were received from 130 staff of equity units at 27 universities, which enabled the research team to identify differences in disclosure practices and systems to encourage reporting.
- Student responses to surveys totaled 1108, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and across Australia. These included 436 NESB students, 253 students with disability, and 73 Indigenous students.
- Roughly 11 per cent of the surveyed population did not disclose their equity status to their university. Of this number, six per cent of Indigenous students reported not disclosing, as did 11 per cent of students with disability, and 18 per cent of NESB students. Roughly 13 per cent of the total population reported being unsure as to whether they had disclosed.
- For students, disclosure is associated with access to benefits, or occurs simply because they were asked. Non-disclosure is often simply a result of being unaware of why they should disclose, or driven by fears of discrimination by university staff or other students.
- The project produced six proposed guidelines to improve outcomes for equity students and increase rates of self-disclosure:
- Adopt inclusive university practices and procedures.
- Offer options of disclosure channels and times where students can retain control over their information.
- Explain equity programs and services to students at university with clear guidelines of benefits, confidentiality and the disclosure process.
- Adopt clear, consistent and easily understood definitions of equity groups for applications, enrolment and support.
- Encourage a wider understanding of equity group membership among staff and students.
- During application and enrolment, explain requests for relevant equity group information, and allow non-responses for students who prefer not to answer, with later follow up.
Summary prepared by the NCSEHE