Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On
The third case study publication in the NCSEHE series tracks the diverse activities, partnerships, positive outcomes, and sustainable impacts of Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) programs over time.
Professor Sue Trinidad and Dr Nadine Zacharias
Every Australian should have the opportunity to build the best possible future for themselves, regardless of background or personal circumstances, and education is widely seen as the basis for realising individual potential. However, many students may not consider the possibility of higher education, may have difficulty accessing university or may struggle with transitions through it. The reasons are many and varied, but may include remoteness, disability or socioeconomic status, with the most disadvantaged students affected by more than one of these characteristics. The fact that many of these students do not reach the same level of attainment at school as their non-disadvantaged peers has been widely documented.
Addressing inequities in educational outcomes
Over the last three decades, the Australian Government has developed targeted policy initiatives to address inequities in educational outcomes for young people from six equity target groups, including the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP). Introduced in 2010, this comprehensive national equity program provides supplementary funding to universities to build the aspirations and capacity of students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds to participate and succeed in higher education. The Government’s commitment to supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds has been re-articulated in education policy with the Higher Education Reform Package (2017), informed by the findings of the Evaluation of the HEPPP (2017).
Under the HEPPP, Australia’s 37 public universities have designed equity programs in response to local community circumstances and the nature of their student body. University programs frequently include partnerships with local primary and secondary schools, vocational education and training providers, other universities, State and Territory governments, community groups, and other relevant stakeholders. In addition, there are a variety of programs to support current students in their transition into and through university.
HEPPP: Seven Years On
This case study publication is the third in the NCSEHE series, detailing the successful practices used by universities to reach prospective university students from the target equity groups (pre-access or outreach), help them get into university (access) and provide support once they commence study (participation), and approach completion (attainment). Following on from Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach–Access–Support (2013) and Partnerships in Higher Education (2014), this publication tracks the diverse activities, partnerships, positive outcomes, and sustainable impacts of HEPPP programs over time. This latest review of initiatives to support widening access and participation is a timely contribution to further developing a progressive and equitable higher education system in Australia.
A picture of success: diverse, large-scale and sophisticated HEPPP initiatives
The HEPPP funded programs showcased in this publication illustrate the diversity of institutional responses to HEPPP as well as some clear themes that have been consistent over time. They are a celebration of what has been achieved and a reminder of what remains to be done.
Of the 35 featured case studies, 21 focus on pre-access programs and a further seven have a pre-access component. This demonstrates the traditional focus of HEPPP funded work on outreach and partnerships with schools, communities and industry partners. The case studies document the longevity, growth and diversification of several flagship outreach programs, with the scale and sophistication of many of these university-led partnerships being truly impressive. Noteworthy differences in program design emerge throughout the case studies. Pre-access programs variably focus on primary/pre-primary students, or those in their final years of high school; on some of the most educationally disadvantaged young people, or on high achievers in disadvantaged schools. Some have a career focus whereas others prioritise academic attainment and teacher professional development. While most engage with their cohort at the school level, other programs have identified sub-groups for highly targeted offers, including Indigenous students, students from refugee or care leaver backgrounds and young women in non-traditional areas.
Collectively, the sector can look back at seven years of significant achievements in positioning higher education as a desirable and achievable post-school pathway. Some of the case studies document the increases in application rates to universities from their partner schools over time. At the same time, the case studies highlight the often intangible benefits that result from universities’ sustained and mutually beneficial engagement with communities and the difficulties involved in measuring these outcomes. There are case studies of programs that target more than one phase of the student lifecycle, notably pre-access/access; pre-access/participation; and pre-access/access/participation. These provide integrated solutions to some of the barriers identified during the pre-access phase, namely alternative entry pathways and financial support; address the needs of identified target groups; or provide a continuation of support from school to university.
Seven of the case studies have a major access component and are important illustrations of good practice. However, the lack of access-only strategies emphasises the opportunity to increase investment in demonstrably effective access initiatives. This strategic gap has been observed since the early days of HEPPP, by Richard James, Ryan Naylor and Chi Baik in 2012, and confirmed in the 2016 NCSEHE Equity Fellowship project by Nadine Zacharias. Furthermore, there is only one case study reporting on activities in the attainment and transition out phase. This is not surprising given the longitudinal nature of this publication and the fairly recent shift of attention to completion and graduate outcomes of students from low SES backgrounds.
The remaining five case studies highlight participation programs which focus on preparation, transition and peer-support. One case study provides an example of a more personalised approach to retention while another demonstrates the success of efforts to create a more inclusive curriculum which disproportionately benefits students from equity groups. These illustrate the importance of initiatives to support current students in their journey through university but also highlight some of the limitations of attempting to target support offers at particular groups of students.
Seven years of innovative practice
As a collection, the case studies underscore one of the key findings of the above mentioned Equity Fellowship project: that HEPPP has provided universities with the flexibility to develop bespoke equity programs which align with their institutional profile and strategic priorities. Put differently, there is no one best way to develop and implement a HEPPP program; instead, this publication is a celebration of the diversity of successful initiatives undertaken under the banner of HEPPP. HEPPP: Seven Years On illustrates the importance of documenting these successes in comprehensive and rigorous ways as well as the challenges in evaluating programs which show less measurable outcomes.