Informing Policy and Practice IV
Professor Sue Trinidad — NCSEHE Director
The objective of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) is to build the evidence base through research informing policy and practice. One of the ways we have achieved this is through the NCSEHE Research Grants Program which has funded 47 projects since 2014, with a total research expenditure of A$1,945,733. A further 15 projects will be undertaken in 2019/20.
This Informing Policy and Practice IV publication reviews outcomes from the 2017/18 Research Grants Program funding round. The research priorities for this funding round were: analysis of the impact of changes in student financial support, graduate outcomes, equity implications of the increase in postgraduate education, and the impact of local communities on equity participation. The fourth in the Informing Policy and Practice series, the publication also incorporates Associate Professor Maria Raciti’s 2018 NCSEHE Research Fellowship on the perceived risks of going to university for students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.
In building the evidence base to support equity in higher education, the NCSEHE seeks to promote a positive cycle of continuous quality improvement in research, policy and practice: identifying the issues, providing research data, and leading the policy debate on equity in higher education. This intention is supported by the NCSEHE’s other activities in developing links with stakeholders, disseminating research and information, and conducting events to build better networks and strengthen advocacy.
The role of equity in education is increasingly recognised as a driver of future economic and social development in society. Australia’s future depends on all people being enabled to successfully engage in beneficial lifelong learning. This requires an inclusively designed educational system, at all levels and for all ages, that proactively removes barriers and provides for the diverse learning and support needs of all people. Making this happen requires the right information to be collected, evaluated and acted upon, to align system and institutional performance with policy objectives.
Over the last few years, the focus, quality and complexity of equity research, and the policy implications flowing from it, have changed considerably.
The equity and education sectors are looking more closely at the composition and dynamics of equity groups and the nature of disadvantage and success; the practices of educational institutions are under closer scrutiny for the way in which they may contribute to the barriers and enablers of success; more creative thought is being directed to innovative solutions to how students from disadvantaged backgrounds can be supported most effectively; and relationships between stakeholders are changing as more cooperation and coordination between them takes place to facilitate equity as part of implementing wider public policy objectives.
These are complicated and evolving challenges. We need to resolve the paradox of working on two different levels and integrating them both: high-level issues requiring communication and collaboration between stakeholders to reduce or eliminate silo thinking, and more fundamental issues such as understanding the personal complexities of equity and what constitutes disadvantage or success from an individual student-centric perspective.
The research projects in the 2017/18 funding round reflect these trends. Four research themes from this round emerged:
- knowing our students much better
- insights into understanding the subtleties and variations of living in regional Australia
- new ideas on the role of institutions and the processes that drive them
- ensuring long-term success in equity by measuring post-graduation outcomes.
The research reports featured in this publication provide a welcome contribution to the evidence base on how equity in higher education is faring and how we can make the greatest positive impact in the future.
Insights from the reports will assist researchers, equity practitioners and policymakers to better shape a more holistic student-centred approach to student equity in ways that re-evaluate what constitutes success. The reports confirm that improving the accountability and transparency of reporting by all educational institutions will better enable them to respond and adapt to student needs that are consistent with public policy goals in education.
A more equity-focused higher education sector will better align the supply of educational skills with the changing demands of the economy and society.
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