Creating accessible, effective and equitable careers and study information for low SES students
Prof. Dawn Bennett1, Dr. Jane Coffey2, Dr. Sherry Bawa2, Dr. David Carney3, Prof. Alfred M. Dockery2, Dr. Kathleen Franklyn2, Dr. Paul Koshy4, Dr. Ian W. Li5, Dr. Subhadarsini Parida2, & Unwin, Ms. Siobhan Unwin2
This study examined low socioeconomic status (SES) students’ access to information about higher education study options, pathways, and careers and the efficacy of that information. It reports in the context of a shift in higher education policy towards including outcomes as a key component of institutional performance.
Wellings et al.’s (2019) review of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, the primary funding source for Australia’s public higher education institutions, recommended that graduate employment rates be included in performance funding measures. The review also recommended that equity student participation be reported, with specific mention of Indigenous, low SES, and regional and remote students.
Although the 2019 review did not make an explicit link between equity participation and graduate outcomes, the Australian Government’s response reflects its commitment to addressing equity challenges across the education lifecycle, from pre-access outreach to graduate employment outcomes. The Job-Ready Graduates legislation and related policies, and the creation of the National Careers Institute, are important developments in focusing policy attention on employment outcomes for graduates, including low SES graduates (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, n.d.).
The Job-Ready Graduates legislation prefaced the introduction, in 2021, of the Indigenous, Regional and Low SES Attainment Fund (IRLSAF), which incorporates the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP). The IRLSAF has a broader focus on supporting Indigenous, low SES and regional and remote students as opposed to the HEPPP’s singular focus on low SES students. The fund aligns with initiatives such as the National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund (NPILF), which funds public university initiatives relating to workplace integration, STEM education, and industry alignment.
An additional government response has been seen in the regional context, with separate initiatives responding to two regional student reviews. Both the Independent Review Into Regional, Rural and Remote Education (Halsey, 2018) and the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy Final Report (Napthine et al., 2019) advocated a focus on employment outcomes as part of addressing regional disadvantage in education. Of particular importance and in line with the findings of this study, the reviews and subsequent government initiatives recognise the need to refocus equity policy such that it considers the impacts of compounding disadvantage and both measures and reports student participation, completion rates, and graduate (employment) outcomes.
Combined, the study findings are reported as five elements through which students’ career and study decision-making can be understood and enhanced.
Information and guidance provided to students
Students’ Interpretation of the information and guidance they receive
Influence of information and guidance on stakeholders
Temporal Impacts of information and influence
Improvements to students’ access to, and their use of information pertaining to, study
and career pathways.
1. Develop a national approach to ameliorating the inequitable provision of career and study pathways guidance.
2. Establish a nation-wide repository of student-centric information that complements the existing QILT website and enhances students’ ability to make well-informed future career and study choices and connect with various sources of expertise, potentially hosted by the National Careers Institute.
3. Craft a national approach to assist school students and career influencers navigate the postsecondary environment.
4. Found a national approach to the collection and analysis of data in relation to secondary pathways and education-to-work reporting.
5. Create national datasets to examine the changing role of disadvantage in career guidance.
6. Include the student voice in policymaking.
7. Incorporate initial career development information in preservice teacher programs.
8.1 Recommendations to enhance career education in schools
8.2 Recognise the career practitioner role as being critical to the core business of schools.
9. Ensure that career education is undertaken by qualified practitioners in conjunction with trained educators.
10. Make sure that career and study pathways guidance is universal and extends across the student lifecycle.
3Career Industry Council of Australia (CICA)
4National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education
5The University of Western Australia