The plan draws on the findings of the Universities Australia-commissioned Equity and Participation scoping study also released today.
The Chair of the Steering Group for these initiatives, Professor Alan Robson said the scoping study was framed to determine barriers to entry and factors that may influence success for Australian students from three low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds: students from rural and regional Australia; Indigenous students; and students from metropolitan areas.
“Using evidence-based analysis to assess the factors influencing equity and participation in higher education, the scoping study found that in terms of performance at university, low SES participation is more an issue of access than success once enrolled,” Professor Robson said today.
“Parental education levels and parental occupation levels reveal more of the substantial differences in students’ financial circumstances and more of the effect of differences in finances on students’ capacity to study, than does the current postcode-based analysis,” Professor Robson said.
“However, low SES remote students and Indigenous students continue to be the exceptions in terms of positive outcomes from university participation.
“In the light of present knowledge, the most effective way to improve the participation of people from low SES backgrounds and Indigenous people in higher education is to recognise that we need a better policy framework comprised of inter-related policies and a package of policies, rather than any `magic bullet,” he said.
The Universities Australia action plan comprises two major elements: policy initiatives and research initiatives. The policy initiatives suggest steps that can be taken within the current policy framework. The research initiatives are aimed at supporting better evidence-based policy initiatives to improve equity and participation of students from low SES backgrounds in the future.
“Australia must do all it can to ensure all those who can benefit from higher education are able to do so,” Professor Robson said.
“We need a national approach that recognises the federal-state, cross-portfolio and cross-sectoral forces at play; and that ensures that all stakeholders are able to work collaboratively and consultatively to improve equity and participation in Australia’s higher education sector.
“Quality partnerships between and among schools, vocational and technical education institutions, employers, communities and universities – and governments – are at the heart of achieving that goal,” Professor Robson said.