NCSEHE 2013-14 Annual Report
From June 2013 to December 2015, the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) is located at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. The NCSEHE originally began operation in 2008, hosted by the University of South Australia for a period of five years. The Federal Government then called for expressions of interest in November 2012 from universities to host the national centre. In May 2013, Curtin University won the bid through a two-stage process (10 expressions of interest were received, and four were shortlisted). Minister Sharon Bird announced that Curtin University had won the bid to host the NCSEHE at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIICCSRTE, now Australian Government Department of Education) Equity in Higher Education Policy Forum on 30 April – 1 May, 2013. Total funding of $3.25 million was committed, with the contract being signed on 31 May 2013.
The NCSEHE is now building on the outcomes of the previous centre, as well as outcomes from the National HEPPP Evaluation ‘Think Tank’ held at Deakin University in July 2012, and the Australian Government Department of Education Equity in Higher Education Policy Forum held at the University of Sydney, 30 April – 1 May 2013.
The participation of people in higher education from Low Socio-Economic Status (LSES) backgrounds now exceeds 17 per cent for the first time in Australia. The focus on increasing participation in higher education has been driven by the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008) and the Australian Government response, Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System (2009). It is currently enabled through funding provided by the Federal Government to universities through the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP). From 1 January 2015 HEPPP will be replaced by the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) as part of a comprehensive reform of higher education, supporting the Government’s objective of ensuring that Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the ability to study at university get the opportunity to do so and succeed.
The purpose of the NCSEHE is to inform public policy design and implementation, and institutional practice in order to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people. In Australia and internationally, the NCSEHE aims to act as a conduit for discussion and research on issues affecting student equity in higher education policy, practice and analysis. In keeping with its purpose, the NCSEHE attempts to connect student equity policy with the activities of higher education institutions and national equity outcomes, through its input into comparative assessment of institutional strategies, systemic assessments of policy achievements and assessments of national policymaking in view of this evidence. As part of this mission, the NCSEHE strives to ‘close the loop’ between equity policy, research and practice, conducting activities through three core programs:
- Equity Policy and Program Evaluation (Evaluation Program) – providing leadership and support in developing a national approach and resources to evaluate the impact of initiatives to increase participation of people from LSES backgrounds and other equity groups in higher education.
- Equity Policy and Planning Research (Research Program) – furthering equity policy and planning in Australia, sharing knowledge and capabilities developed in Australia, and providing evidence on the impact of policy on equity outcomes in the system.
- Student Equity Data and Analysis (Data and Analysis Program) – providing a central repository for the analysis and availability of national datasets on student equity in higher education.
Within its first year of operation the NCSEHE has had a number of highlights including the launch of the NCSEHE website and social media channels through a comprehensive communications strategy; the production of the NCSEHE case study publication Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach| Access| Support; and the Research Roundtable held at the Australian National University (ANU) in November 2013. The case study publication was distributed to all universities, government and industry stakeholders, and brought together samples of the current practice of the 37 public universities in Australia. The universities’ self-selected case studies spanned activities used to reach prospective university students (outreach), helping students progress into university (access) and providing support once students commence, improving the retention and completion rates of those students.
The Research Roundtable held at the ANU brought together 29 equity researchers and practitioners from across Australia and resulted in 12 competitive grants being allocated in 2014 as a part of the NCSEHE research grants program.
A number of exciting projects are underway as we move into our second year of operation. The NCSEHE is involved in a number of evaluation and research projects with partner universities, and is developing and testing the Equity Performance Framework for Australian Higher Education for the Australian Government Department of Education. The development of an interactive Australian map linking equity performance data geographically is also underway. It will eventually be linked to the NCSEHE website for general use. The aim is to have the NCSEHE website become the central location for national datasets on student equity in higher education available in intuitive, visual, but interrogable formats.
We continue building the NCSEHE reputation nationally and internationally through our web media and communications strategy. After an invitation from Professor John Storan, a paper was submitted to the 2014 Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) held on 2–4 July 2014 in Manchester, UK. FACE is the major professional network in the UK for those involved in widening participation and access to higher education. While in the UK I also visited the equity centres at the University of East London the ‘Continuum Research Centre’; the ‘Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change’ in Glasgow; and the ‘Wales Centre for Equity in Education’ in Wales to discuss possible collaborative research opportunities.
I presented a keynote at the Equity Practitioners in Higher Education (EPHEA) National Conference in November 2013. I will continue to promote the NCSEHE through two additional national keynote presentations during 2014. The first is for the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA) at their 30th national conference in Armidale NSW in October, talking to regional educators about the participation of our regional students’ access to higher education. The second is for the Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability (ATEND) at the Pathways 12 Conference in Fremantle Western Australia in December, talking about the latest implications and data for students
with disabilities studying higher education. We are also running a number of monitoring and evaluating forums for universities in 2014–2015.
Our first Annual Report is issued at a time of proposed significant higher education reform. Australia’s expanding higher education system offers disadvantaged students increasing opportunities to enter university, but shifts in policy will affect higher education access, participation and completions. The centre will continue to offer evidence-based commentary to inform the current debate as higher education becomes more representative of wider socioeconomic Australia.
The NCSEHE team look forward to continuing the excellent progress achieved in our first year of operation at Curtin University. Along with a supportive Advisory Board and our many stakeholders, we aim to achieve the key purpose of the NCSEHE: informing public policy design and implementation and institutional practice to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people.
Professor Sue Trinidad
National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education
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