Widening Participation Longitudinal Study — Scoping Study
Lead University: University of Queensland
Lead Researcher: Bill Martin
Research Team: Bill Martin, George McLean, Peter Noonan, Wojtek Tomaszewski, Mark Western, Bernard Baffour, Laetitia Coles, Merryn Davies, Stephen Lamb, Paco Perales and Ning Xiang
Year Funded: 2014
Funding Received: $145,000
This study determined the scope of a new Widening Participation Longitudinal Study (WPLS), its design, governance structure, and indicative costings. The WPLS provides the opportunity to map the pathways of disadvantaged learners towards higher education, with a focus on student aspirations and expectations, as well as broader social and economic factors such as family attitudes; financial decision-making; peer influences; and mental and physical wellbeing.
- Australia does not currently have the “data infrastructure” to measure the effectiveness of investment in educational equity. The Australian Government Department of Education and Training (DET) commissioned a scoping research study to deliver design specifications and indicative costings for a new Widening Participation Longitudinal Study (WPLS).
- The WPLS provides the opportunity to map the pathways of disadvantaged learners towards higher education, with a focus on little-understood issues relating to student aspirations and expectations, as well as broader social and economic factors such as family attitudes; financial decision-making; peer influences; and mental and physical wellbeing.
- The WPLS has been scoped to examine identified equity groups in scope for equity policy and programs and the collection of data for the purpose of:
- analysing barriers to participation in higher education and the comparative weight of those barriers
- investigating the influences on students’ aspirations and ability to access higher education, and the varying importance of these influences
- assessing the effectiveness of specific equity activities and interventions.
- The objective of the report was to explain and evaluate three study design options to meet the brief of a WPLS, with the findings designed to inform the DET’s decision-making in future WPLS implementation.
- The study designs are the outcome of research and consultation undertaken in 2015 by the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and Victoria University’s Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES). It entailed:
- planning, engagement and consultation with the DET
- review of existing literature
- review of relevant studies
- demographic research to define the characteristics of study participants
- identification of equity interventions of interest
- consultation with key stakeholders.
- As an outcome of the early stage research, the DET and the research team agreed the WPLS would best be designed as an accelerated cross-sequential longitudinal study covering up to three age cohorts: primary school; secondary school; and higher education.
- The scoping study identified three primary strategies to obtain data for measuring the effects of equity interventions addressing disadvantage in higher education for the cohorts specified:
- using administrative data, including National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy data, to obtain participation and engagement information without over-burdening study participants
- leveraging existing longitudinal survey data surveys to obtain data on primary and secondary school students
- collecting new longitudinal data specific to the objectives of the WPLS study.
- The report concluded with three study designs that built on the above data scaffolding, with varying implications for cost and analytic value:
- Basic design — linked data from existing longitudinal surveys and administrative records with the capacity to generate some insights into the pathways through education for identified equity groups, but not adequately assess the role of equity interventions.
- Recommended design — targeted new survey collection with secondary school and higher education cohorts that explicitly addressed interventions. This included sampling of up to 1000 respondents from the five primary identified equity groups.
- Extended design — an expansion of the recommended approach, including supplementary studies and surveys.
- The recommended design option offers the best value for money with regard to targeted new government investment in longitudinal data collection for assessing the impact of equity interventions on higher education participation and attainment.
Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.