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University Experience for Disadvantaged Students and Influence on Academic Outcomes

Research into the labour market outcomes of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Australia has found that students from low SES backgrounds and from rural, regional and remote locations tend to experience comparable labour market outcomes to those of their privileged peers. They are just as likely to find jobs that utilise their qualifications and experience, and earn good incomes.

It has, however, been suggested that the positive outcomes experienced by graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds may be indicative of a selection process. In a 2015 research study by Patrick Lim, students from certain disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to complete their university degrees. However, the reasons for the poorer rates of completion for disadvantaged groups are not clear. For instance, it is possible that non-academic reasons may lead to attrition or poorer academic outcomes for disadvantaged students, including factors such as financial stress or the lack of support in university study.

A new study, funded by the NCSEHE and led by Assistant Professor Ian Li from the School of Population Health at The University of Western Australia, is looking to uncover the university experience determinants that impact on academic outcomes for disadvantaged students, including retention and marks.

“A number of studies have found that the university student experience matters and is a prominent influence on academic outcomes,” Assistant Professor Li said.

“Accordingly, universities across the world invest heavily in programs and experiences designed to attract and engage their student cohorts. They want them to have a positive experience on campus and with their peers, and they want them to complete their degrees.”

“What has been less researched, however, is whether or not disadvantaged students have a less positive university experience compared to their privileged peers, and what the impact of that university experience is in terms of completing their studies.”

Drawing on data linked together from the Student Experience Survey, the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, and student records from 13 participating universities, Assistant Professor Li, working with colleague Dr David Carroll from Monash University, will examine the determinants behind several facets of university student experience for several equity groups: students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, Indigenous students, students from non-English speaking backgrounds, students with disability, international students, and students who are the first in their family to attend university.

The links between student experience and academic outcomes, such as retention and marks, will also be explored, these findings of which will be of value in formulating interventions to boost retention and academic performance of disadvantaged students.

“We acknowledge the support of the 13 universities and the Department of Education and Training who have provided data for the study.” Assistant Professor Li said.

“The construction of this unique dataset for the study will allow us to gain valuable insights into issues that are relevant, important and helpful for the purposes of equity in higher education.”

Assistant Professor Li’s projected is scheduled for completion in November 2016, after which time a full report will be available here on the NCSEHE website.

Posted 30 August 2016 Posted in Disability, General, Indigenous, International, Low SES, Regional