Student equity: Every provider’s business
A new study has quantified participation and success of equity students undertaking courses delivered through university third party arrangements and non-university higher education institutions. Many courses were being delivered successfully outside of universities, but better regulation and improved transparency would ensure every provider and every form of delivery effectively contributes to student equity.
The research on student equity at, and beyond, the university boundary was conducted by La Trobe University in collaboration with Victoria University, and funded by the NCSEHE.
Co-author of the report Naomi Tootell, Senior Research Officer at the Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research (CHEEDR) at La Trobe University, said:
“The number of equity students enrolled in university courses delivered through third-party arrangements and in non-university higher education institutions (NUHEIs) is growing.”
More than half of Australia’s public universities were found to have policies and/or protocols referring to the engagement of third parties for delivery of undergraduate courses to onshore domestic students.
“Given the significant levels of public funding and investment involved, we advocate greater transparency and accountability in university third party delivery, with respect to arrangements in general, as well as how they relate to student equity,” Ms Tootell said.
“Changes to data collection protocols, reporting requirements, Commonwealth funding agreements and student handbooks would facilitate this improved transparency and accountability. Better policies and a common language could also ensure that students are clear about what they are signing up for.”
With institutions recruiting from beyond their traditional catchments, trends in student participation for third party-delivered courses were inverse to what would normally be expected from university-based courses.
“Regionally headquartered universities enrolled more high socioeconomic status (SES) students in third party-delivered courses, which tended to be offered in cities. Metropolitan headquartered universities enrolled more low SES students in third party-delivered courses, which are typically offered in the regions or online,” Ms Tootell said.
While there was no evidence of major problems with third party-delivered courses, student success and retention tended to be lower compared to students enrolled in courses delivered directly by the universities.
Whilst some NUHEIs outperformed universities on equity group participation and outcomes, there is great variability and average NUHEI performance is below average university performance.
Co-author of the report and Director of CHEEDR, Associate Professor Andrew Harvey, noted that:
“Policy attention should focus on improving the performance of those at the lower end of the continuum.”
“Equally, high-performing NUHEIs demonstrated a common commitment to students with small cohorts and personalised learning. Sharing and promoting such exemplars of good practice could benefit other NUHEIs as well as universities,” Associate Professor Harvey said.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad said it is important to develop and maintain effective reporting and regulation for all higher education providers.
“Flexibility in the delivery of higher education is paramount for many students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and this research suggests that, increasingly, equity students are engaging with non-university providers to meet those needs,” Professor Trinidad said.
“A complete picture of student demographics, participation and outcomes in third party-delivered courses and NUHEIs is necessary to ensure a consistently high standard across the sector.”
The full report, Equity at and beyond the boundary of Australian universities is accessible here.