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Research Developments from ACER

Higher Education

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Equity students’ pathways to STEM

An ACER study will offer new insight into the dynamics of STEM pathways for students from disadvantaged groups.

The Australian Council for Educational Research has been awarded funding from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education’s Research Grants Program to investigate the pathways into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and occupations undertaken by young Australians from key equity groups.

The research will investigate STEM pathways of four equity groups – low socioeconomic status, non-metropolitan, women in non-traditional areas and students who are the first in their family to attend higher education – examining how their experiences differ from non-equity groups.

In particular, the study aims to:

  • describe the type of STEM education and occupational pathways undertaken by young people in Australia;
  • identify factors associated with pursuing higher education STEM; and
  • assess the extent to which students reporting the presence of barriers go on to pursue tertiary STEM pathways.

The study will be based on the analysis of data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY). Three LSAY cohorts will be analysed from the transition period from senior secondary school to age 25 (or most recently available data): young people who were 15 years old in 2003, 2006 and 2009.

Research on equity groups and STEM has to date primarily focused on gender. Less attention has focused on tracking the STEM pathways of a range of equity groups, or on the interplay between equity group membership, these factors and STEM pathways.

The study will therefore help build a more comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of equity groups and their STEM pathways, providing additional insight for policy and practice. In particular, the findings have the potential to highlight areas where schools can help mitigate the effects of disadvantage on university STEM participation, as well as having implications for careers guidance and advice at school, and university outreach activities.

ACER Senior Research Fellow Dr Julie McMillan will act as chief investigator, supported by ACER Senior Research Fellow Dr Sarah Buckley, ACER Tertiary Education Research Director Dr Daniel Edwards and ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Sheldon Rothman. Work will commence in November 2019 and the final report is due for publication in late 2020. ■

Find out more:
View the full list of National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program projects for 2019-20.

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