The Ten Conversations
The Ten Conversations is an initiative of developing dialogues to unravel complex and often multifaceted issues and forge a consensus through over 80 equity expert’s opinions assembled at the Facilitating an Innovation Future Through Equity Forum. The goal is to develop a coalescing of perspectives and turn them into focussed narratives in which all stakeholders have a shared ownership.
The Ten Conversations were developed and allocated to ten tables, each headed by a leading equity professional, assisted by a NCSEHE staff member to act as a scribe. Each table was asked to produce three policy ideas that would assist their equity conversation.
The overarching goal is to facilitate the development of a positive feedback loop so that stakeholders can participate in creating a shared narrative with agreed goals and a common purpose.
The Ten Conversations are not single-issues but a combination of several related issues. The conversations identified are not the only important issues in equity today – but collectively they cover a large number of the challenges for equity in higher education.
1. 25 Years of Equity in Australia
Australia has widely been seen as successful in promoting equity in higher education as an embraced reform for over 25 years. We need to promote excellence in equity. How can we do that? What lessons have we learnt from the past which can be applied to equity policy and program support in the future?
2. Students from Low SES Backgrounds
Higher education for students from low socioeconomic (low SES) backgrounds is transformative for individuals, their families and communities. For this reason, it is important that universities are relevant to finding employment in an economy in which jobs and skills are being re-shaped by technology and where other options exist, including vocational education and training (VET). How do we continue to build on recent successes in low SES students accessing and completing higher education?
3. Students from Regional and Remote Areas
The proportion of regional and remote students in the overall student population fell between 2011 and 2015. The main challenges for regional and remote students – developing positive narratives, extra cost of living burdens and the ‘psychological dislocation’ of leaving home – all remain issues. Are these issues so entrenched that they can only be ameliorated at the margin or are significant new cost-effective initiatives that increase regional and remote participation possible?
4. Students with Disability
Universities face a challenge of adequately supporting the complex multi-dimensional issues of a growing number of students with disability. The range of built environments in educational institutions and the different disability initiatives put in place by universities, in some cases poorly communicated to equity practitioners across the sector, makes it difficult to know what constitutes best practice, a concept which itself is constantly changing. How do we progress best practice across all educational institutions in a cost effective manner?
5. Students from Indigenous Backgrounds
An increasing number of Indigenous people are entering higher education, but this group are consistently under-represented in higher education and face numerous economic, social and educational disadvantages. They are less likely to go to university, less likely to complete university, less likely to be employed soon after graduating and more likely to receive lower incomes from employment. Are current initiatives ‘closing the gap’ or do we need to re-think program design, coordination and funding?
6. Scholarships and Support Systems
Institutional equity scholarships exist in the context of a national income support system (Centrelink) which includes Commonwealth Scholarships; and the Commonwealth Indigenous Scholarships scheme (soon to be become part of the ISSP). Institutional scholarships have proliferated and vary widely in amount, duration and eligibility, catering to local interests and conditions, but appear to have a strong retention effect; a modest success effect; and a modest recruitment effect, acting as an affordability signal to low-SES prospective students. Students have access to a means-tested, nationally-consistent, transparent, Commonwealth-funded income support system, and also to institution-specific, but often less-transparent institutional schemes. How should the Commonwealth income support scheme and university scholarship schemes be most optimally structured and targeted, and how should they best work together to attract and support low-SES students?
7. Defining Success: Student Performance, Transition, Retention and Graduate Outcomes
Equity students fare less well than non-equity students in terms of degree completion, employment and earnings, and further study. They are more likely to concentrate in educational subject areas that result in lower paid jobs. Are equity students more disadvantaged than the data suggests? What constitutes ‘success’ for equity students? How do we measure and report success?
8. Evaluating Performance in Equity Programs
Equity support programs have expanded in number, range and objectives as a larger number of institutions reach out to a greater number of equity students. The standard of evaluation of those programs varies widely and comparing one program or institution with another can be difficult because of different analysis and reporting methodologies. How can we improve the evaluation of equity support programs as well as the transparency and reporting on those programs so we can encourage the development of best practice in equity support programs across Australia?
9. Higher Education Data and Equity Policy
To close the gap between equity policy, research and practice, we need to ensure that policy has a solid evidence base. How can we ensure that data from higher education, and perhaps education in general, is used to evaluate policy?
10. Re-defining Equity Groups
Shifting demographic and economic trends have implications for equity in higher education and the way equity groups are categorised and become a focus for support. Are the current equity groups the right ones to focus on? Is there a case for ‘more but focussed’ groups or ‘fewer but wider issues’ based groups? How do we manage changes to equity groups while maintaining long-run datasets?