Informing Policy and Practice V
NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea
The NCSEHE endorses an approach to higher education policy that is grounded in inclusive participation. This vision is underpinned by an understanding that all people in Australia, whomever and wherever they are, are provided with the opportunity to successfully engage in lifelong learning that is inclusive, accountable and responsive to community needs. For this to happen, educational systems need to be adept at responding to both current and prospective challenges.
The NCSEHE is building an evidence base to inform decision making in both equity policy and practice in Australian higher education and bridge the gap between the two. The NCSEHE Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program and Equity Fellows Program are important aspects of this work.
Since 2014, the NCSEHE Research Grants Program has funded 79 projects, across six rounds, with total expenditure of A$3,020,512. The Equity Fellowship program began in 2016. Since then, 12 Fellowships have been awarded to researchers and practitioners to conduct year-long studies into topics of emerging importance to equity in Australian higher education.
This Informing Policy and Practice V publication summarises the latest instalments of these two programs over 2019–20.
The 2019–20 Research Grants Program funding round focused on the following themes:
- equity students and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
- equity and mature-aged students
- digital inclusion and student equity
- study–life balance and student equity
- “non-traditional” equity groups (i.e., groups other than low socioeconomic status [low SES]; Indigenous; disability; regional and remote; non-English speaking background [NESB]; women in non-traditional areas [WINTA]; or First-in-Family [FiF] students)
- housing and student equity.
An important consideration in selection was whether projects made innovative uses of existing or new data sources on equity status, undertook a comparative approach to examining issues using international or interstate or institutional comparisons, and/or adopted an interdisciplinary and policy-focused approach. The projects selected collectively met these criteria and, as this publication documents, yielded insights and recommendations which we hope will inform both policy and practice in Australian higher education
The 2019–20 Equity Fellows Program included research by six Fellows looking at critical issues facing Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) students; regional and remote students; and students with disability.
Of course, 2020 was different from previous years in that research project and Fellowship work had already commenced just as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the early part of the year. This necessitated variations in research work to accommodate difficulties in carrying out projects under the pressures of the pandemic, with rapidly changing circumstances affecting both research questions and potential responses. We would like to thank all research teams and Fellows, as well as their participants and supporters, for persevering with research activities during a particularly trying time. However, whilst this was a challenging time to undertake research, equally it was an insightful period. This body of research provides important and innovative perspectives on equity-related matters during a global health crisis.
These challenges and their impacts on equity are discussed in the summaries throughout this publication and in the underlying reports themselves. Readers will appreciate that issues in Australian higher education equity policy are almost always multifaceted and interconnected, in the sense that progress in one area can have positive impacts not just for equity students, but for the broader student population. Many of these equity issues are also globally applicable, offering insights and initiatives that can be applied across different locations and sectors.