Research

Facilitating Student Equity in Australian Higher Education

INTRODUCTION by Professor Sue Trinidad and Professor John Phillimore
There is overwhelming evidence that a society based on social mobility and social justice reduces economic and social disadvantage. Equity in education is instrumental to this process because it is transformative for individuals, families and communities. It leads to greater social cohesion and a widening of the skills and knowledge base which are also facilitating features of the Innovation Economy.

There is a growing knowledge base as to what constitutes, impedes and best advances equity in higher education. But there is also a patchwork of well-intentioned policies and programs to improve equity outcomes with often inadequate program-specific or system-wide evaluation of those policies and programs. In addition, there are varied interests and perspectives on education and equity held by different stakeholders whose objectives are not always aligned. While advances have been made in equity in higher education, there remains a need to develop a positive feedback loop so that all stakeholders can participate in creating a shared narrative with agreed goals and a common purpose. We need to continue to close the loop between equity research, policy and practice.

The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education’s (NCSEHE) Facilitating an Innovation Future Through Equity Forum, held at the National Press Club in Canberra on 28 November 2016, brought together some of Australia’s most prominent researchers, policy analysts and equity practitioners with the goal of advancing equity in higher education. This compendium to the Forum, Facilitating Student Equity in Higher Education, is a summary of relevant research to date.

The Facilitating an Innovation Future Through Equity Forum makes a contribution to a reinvigorated public policy dialogue for equity in higher education in three ways: by summarising some of the key lessons learned from 24 research reports funded by the NCSEHE; by demonstrating the achievements of future equity leaders emerging from the Equity Fellows Program; and by launching ‘The Ten Conversations’ in equity to progress a process for coalescing different perspectives on equity into more focussed narratives in which all stakeholders have shared ownership.

Lessons from NCSEHE research reports have been synthesised into five areas of Low SES, Indigenous, Disability, Scholarships and Graduate Outcomes. The five reports present a wider research perspective of discrete areas of equity policy, summarising what research has been conducted, highlighting key trends and issues and recommendations for policy and practice. In taking a broader view, these summary reports provide a more holistic view of the five areas of research which may facilitate the identification of further areas for research.

The three inaugural 2016 Equity Fellows’ reports provide an overview of their research as an important Australian Government initiative, funded through the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and managed by the NCSEHE. The goal of the Equity Fellows Program is to produce future equity leaders as well as significant research projects that will advance equity in higher education. Summaries of the work of the three 2016 Equity Fellows appear in this compendium: Dr Nadine Zacharias (The Australian Student Equity Program and Institutional Change); Dr Cathy Stone (Opportunity through Online Learning); and Dr Erica Southgate (Fair Connection to Professional Careers).

The Ten Conversations is an initiative of developing dialogues to unravel complex and often multifaceted issues and forge a consensus through over 80 equity experts’ opinions assembled at the forum. The goal is to develop a coalescing of perspectives and turn them into focussed narratives in which all stakeholders have a shared ownership. The Ten Conversations selected for the Equity Forum include: 25 Years of Equity in Australia; Students from Low SES Backgrounds; Students from Regional and Remote Areas; Students with Disability; Students from Indigenous Backgrounds; Scholarships and Support Systems; Defining Success; Evaluating Performance of Equity Programs; Higher Education Data and Equity Policy; and Re-defining Equity Groups. These are not the only ‘conversations we have to have’ but they have enabled The Ten Conversations to be the start of building a collective narrative.

The common themes running throughout the research presented in this publication positions us for constructive dialogue that informs strategic policy decisions and equity practices, with all stakeholders sharing and owning a narrative that promotes equity in higher education.

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NCSEHE (2016), “Facilitating Student Equity in Australian Higher Education”, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Perth. ncsehe.edu.au/publications/facilitating-student-equity-in-australian-higher-education/.

Posted 5 December 2016 By ncsehe