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A clearer picture: Equity in higher education

While Australia’s expanding higher education system offers disadvantaged students increasing opportunities to enter university, the question is whether increased access is matched by completions. New research is seeking answers.

New research using Commonwealth government data on university entrance and completion as well as national engagement, experience and graduate survey data is exploring whether equity in higher education remains an issue.

The research, in collaboration with the Higher Education Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities (NSWDEC) and funded through a research grant from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at
 John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, is investigating completion rates of groups of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and comparing these with the student population as a whole.

To develop a clearer picture on completion rates, the research will explore completion rates in terms of the demographic characteristics, enrolment characteristics, prior educational participation and achievement of students, and the type and location of the university they attend.

The research, led by ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Daniel Edwards, working in collaboration with NSWDEC Director of Higher Education Andrew Rolfe, draws on ACER data from the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) and University Experience Survey (UES), as well as the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) of Graduate Careers Australia.

‘Analysis of the Commonwealth’s Higher Education Statistics Collection to track progress of students through the higher education sector should enable us to analyse first-year attrition and full-course completion rates and examine in particular the patterns for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,’ said Dr Daniel Edwards.

‘Our focus is on the last few years, a time when university enrolments have expanded dramatically, but also when data to facilitate the tracking of students has been in operation. By looking at data from the Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number system, as well as from the AUSSE, UES and CEQ, we expect not only to answer questions empirically about equity in terms of student access and completion, but also with reference to the quality of higher education during the last few years of dramatic expansion.’ ■

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