Higher Education Equity Literature Database

  • Arresting the decline in Australian indigenous representation at university student experience as a guide

    Date: 2009

    Author: Day, D.; Nolde, R.

    Location: Australia

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    Context: Situates the paper and research in context of differences between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - noting higher levels of health concerns, lower life expectancy, more cases of domestic violence, lower rates of participation in school/ school success. Scopes literature relating to participation of Indigenous students in higher education - points to a small and sketchy body of literature at the time. Point to no research that explored differences between first and second generation indigenous students in higher education. Authors also note that once in higher education, financial and health concerns = significant impact on Indigenous participation
    Aim: To reveal the success factors for retention of first year special entry Aboriginal students at an Australian metropolitan university.
    Theoretical frame: Not specified in study.
    Methodology: Grounded theory/ longitudinal study of 12 Indigenous non-traditional entry Year 1 students from 2006 intake (most not FinF = 9/12; equal f and m; self-selected; 9 = 18-19 years old/ 3 = 23-24). In-depth interviews conducted with participants x 3 over one year regarding "impacts of schooling, teaching and learning, life experience, career aspirations, relationships and racial identity on academic success" (p.135)
    Findings: No clear academic distinction between Indigenous and non-indigenous students (except for special entry). Data categorised into: belonging, future plans, identity, personal recognition, and finances. Support and belonging = most significant, also career goals and personal achievement showing strongly. Identity = important theme.
    Prior life experience = relatively little bearing on academic performance = similar learning and life issues to non-Indigenous students. Most did not have a strong connection to their Indigeneity, but wanted to find out more; also factors related to this (for example, friendships and support from Indigenous centre, also and AIME mentoring at school because of Indigeneity) = significant on students' experiences and 'success'. Authors found that private schools = "pipeline (in)to university" (8/12 had attended private schools on indigenous scholarships). Students adopted both indigenous and non-indigenous world perspectives and displayed robust resilience in the face of challenging family and educational experiences.
    Authors discuss the significance of the Indigenous centre, noting "further tertiary sector investment in these units is fundamental to enhancing student progress and retention. However such resources are often not forthcoming. Most non-indigenous faculty do not visit indigenous academic spaces, maintaining academic and cultural divides" (p.149).
    Barriers: "Students identified three main barriers to academic success: difficulty writing essays and managing time, poor communication about resources available to them including support programs, and, not knowing what was needed to succeed in their first year" (p.151).
    Authors offer a model for pathways of indigenous student special entry access to a metropolitan university (see p.155). Model shows how most students from study had clear career goal prior to entering higher education, they had close relationships with the Indigenous centre and friends, participated in lots of ECAs and were enthusiastic.
    Core argument: Spaces of recognition and belonging = key: "a key positive factor to retention to be provision of an indigenous study and support unit on campus, which provided a safe counter space for indigenous students
    only. Here students became part of the indigenous family" (p.156).

  • Art For a Few: Exclusions and Misrecognitions in Higher Education Admission Practices.

    Date: 2011

    Author: Burke, P.; McManus, J.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    in context of WP/ massification of UK higher education (specifically English context, post-New Labour policies). Argues that central tenet of WP work focuses on 'barriers' at individual level, rather than examining broader
    "cultural, historical, discursive and subjective dimensions of HE exclusions and inequalities" (p.700). Critiques uncritical notions of 'fair admissions' and meritocracy in context of 'success' and 'failure'
    Aim: To discuss research that was "designed to uncover the complexity of processes of admission and to deconstruct the key assumptions underpinning the selection of students" (p.702)
    Theoretical frame: Draws on 'conceptual tools' of subjectivity and (mis)recognition (Fraser, 1997), drawing from feminist and post-structural theory, including Foucault's conceptualisation of power as "exercised in unpredictable ways; moments of resistance can be both transformative and recuperative" (p.704).
    Methodology: Qualitative, case study: included review of admissions policies, prospectuses and websites; in-depth interviews with admissions tutors (n=10); observations of selection interviews (n=70); reflexive field diary. Five HEIs took part.
    Findings:
    Mis/recognition and exclusion at level of identity politics/ subjectivities. WP subjects (as inscribed in policy) = positioned relationally against / with imagined 'ideal' [or 'traditional'] student. Applying to university involves each subject being "individualized, categorized, classified and provoked to disciplinary practices of self-surveillance" (p.705; see Youdell, 2006). Authors present extensive list of assessable attributes compiled from interviews with/ observations of admissions tutors, which are problematic because (a) they are expectations of 17-18 year olds pre-study and (b) because they "are tied in with ontological perspectives that value certain
    dispositions and attitudes more highly than others, and this is inextricably connected to classed and racialized inequalities and subjectivities" (p.706) = creates 'polarizing discourses' (Williams, 1997; Burke, 2002) of 'normal' and 'abnormal' subject-applicants.
    Selection interviews = spaces of mis/recognition = allowing for discursive possibility of uptake (or not) of applicant's 'potential'. Gives example of Nina, whose rejection was based on her 'taste' ("all hip-hop and sport tops") and ethnicity (black) and class (working class) + her 'below average' portfolio, style, confidence and intention to stay living at home (sign of immaturity). Nina was rejected but a young white male was accepted despite having poorer qualifications (and failed GCSE Art). Thus, Nina "was not recognized as a legitimate subject of art and design studies because she cited a form of fashion seen as invalid in the HE context" (p.708)
    Core argument: "admissions practices are tied up with complex operations of exclusion and misrecognition" (p.709). Critical reflexivity needed on part of institution and admissions tutors, "to interrogate the ways that their decisions might be shaped by exclusive values and perspectives, which profoundly influence how candidates are (or are not) recognized as having talent, ability and potential" (p.710).

  • Articulating identities and analyzing belonging: a multistep intervention that affirms and informs a diversity of students,

    Date: 2018

    Author: Cook-Sather, A.; Des-Ogugua, C.; Bahti, M.

    Location: USA

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    Context: Student protests at universities in 2015 and 2016 that attempted to "raise awareness of discriminatory histories and persisting structural inequities on campuses and in the country...[focusing] on discrimination long experienced by Black students [and] prejudice experienced by other students also traditionally underrepresented in, and underserved by, higher education" (374). These protests led to the to the "address and redress" by various universities of "legacies of racial and other injustice" to development and implement programs aimed at supporting "a diversity of people." This article focuses on one such program: "a multistep intervention developed in relation to an undergraduate course called 'Advocating Diversity in Higher Education' and designed to affirm diversity and foster a sense of inclusion among students within and beyond the course" (374).
    Aim: To provide details about the development, implementation, and results of 'Advocating Diversity in Higher Education', the main goal of which was to "access the experiences students have at the intersections of their academic experience (fostered in and outside the classroom), their social experience, and their personal backgrounds, experiences, and identities that shape them outside the campus...[and particularly] to create a forum for marginal voices to be heard and respected by putting them in a place where they can inform classroom pedagogy and student learning" (375).
    Theoretical frame: Intersectionality, belonging, and pedagogical partnership - each framework foregrounds marginal voices and letting them inform pedagogical practice and student learning. The authors cite Crenshaw's (1989, 1991) work on intersectionality as a "multidimensionality" of marginalized subjects' lived experiences' and "her focus on the intersections of race and gender [which] "highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed" (376-77). Intersecitonality within an educational context highlights the disconnect between the ways that people on university campuses encounter diversity and the organizational structure of universities. The authors note that theories of belonging are gaining more attention on college campuses and note shifts in feelings of un/belonging - which can "become exacerbated if peers, faculty, and others on campus respond to underrepresented students in negative or insensitive ways" -when students arrive on campus. The authors reference Strayhorn's (2012) assertion that "in order for students to feel a sense of belonging, students need to experience a 'feeling or sensation of connectedness' and have 'the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the group (e.g. campus community) or others on campus (e.g. faculty, peers)" (377). The authors note that pedagogical partnership is "one approach to recognizing, valuing, and drawing on the multiple experiences and perspectives that students and faculty bring to the educational endeavor" (378) and "can make explicit and address power imbalances and notions of expertise among those involved in a learning experience (Bergmark and Westman 2016; Bovill 2014; Mihans, Long, and Felten 2008) and serve to promote a sense of belonging and empowerment (Matheson and Sutcliffe 2016)" (378).
    Methodology: Qualitative - one-on-one, confidential interviews with participants in the 'Advocating Diversity in Higher Education' course
    Findings: Students understood the 'Advocating Diversity in Higher Education' course functioned as a space "where they felt a sense of 'connectedness' because they felt listened to, valued, and respected" (382) and "The interviews also brought the presence, experiences, and voices of a range of students into the classroom, both affirming some typically marginalized identities and challenging all students to receive and engage what these individuals were articulating" (384).
    Core argument: The university functions as a microcosm of the society it is meant to serve and thus, it is the duty of universities to "not to perpetuate the hierarchical, and oftentimes oppressive, systems of society" and must consider the intersecting positions that comprise student identities (384). Student input belongs in the dialogue about diversity on college campuses

  • Aspirations for Higher Education

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    This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education and the blog posts are written by Sophie Emanuel. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

  • Aspirations for higher education among newcomer refugee youth in Toronto: Expectations, challenges, and strategies.

    Date: 2012

    Author: Shakya, Y. B.; Guruge, S.; Hynie, M.; Akbari, A.; Malik, M.; Htoo, S.; A. Khogali

    Location: Canada

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    Context: Explores educational goals of newly arrived young refugees from Afghan, Karen and Sudanese communities in Toronto, Canada, focusing on pre- and post-migration determinants. Canada's commitment to humanitarian settlement of refugees = based on the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Context = new arrivals tend to have low levels of proficiency in English/ French and lower than average levels of education (particularly for high school) compared with economic migrants entering Canada. Authors note 'sparse' literature on education for/ of refugees. Scopes literature on effects of forced migration/ protracted refugee situations. Notes limited evidence of relationship between forced migration and education, especially in Global North
    Aim: To explore aspirations for higher education among refugee youth and negotiations of educational goals in post-migration context.
    Methodology: Guided by community-based research principles. Conducted 10 x focus groups (gender/ age-specific) and 13 follow-on individual interviews with refugee youth. Paper draws on data collected from multidisciplinary Refugee Youth Health Project, utilising peer researchers (who received 3 months of research training). Interviews conducted in community language (but Sudanese = participated in English). Where necessary, interviews = translated into English by professional translators (p.68)
    Findings: Participants developed strong aspirations for higher education as "proactive response to overcome pre-migration experiences of forced migration and educational disruptions" (abstract). Participants' educational aspirations = strengthened after arriving in Canada = "appears to be a proactive response to the
    pre-migration educational disruptions and limited opportunities encountered within their lives in war-torn countries or refugee camps" (p.69), particularly in relation to lesser opportunities in home countries/ refugee camps. Participants = articulated clear awareness of pre-migration factors and impact on their education. Education in Canada = generally perceived as higher quality. Some participants viewed their education as offering opportunities to earn good salary, which they could use to help others. "The change in educational aspirations before and after coming to Canada is also linked to the perceived differences in the value and benefits associated with education between the two contexts" (p.69). Low educational aspirations within Karen participants = explained by old Karen proverb ("literate eat rice, illiterate eat rice") - see p.69.
    Challenges and barriers to education:
    1) Balancing education and family responsibilities: "youth often find themselves having to become interpreters, service navigators, and caretakers for their families" (p.70), made worse by difficulties many parents had in securing employment. Many young people were taking on adult responsibilities as they filled the income void; "Juggling these new and multiple family responsibilities in Canada can be "overwhelming" for refugee youth and can "overshadow" their educational aspirations and responsibilities" (p.70).
    2) Systemic barriers: information barriers, non-recognition of 'foreign' education and inadequate educational placement, linguistic barriers, financial barriers, and discrimination.
    Strategies: seeking help, being persistent, drawing on friends (which "represent the resilience and tactical capabilities of refugee youth to confront hurdles", p.73).
    Core argument: Resettlement in Canada = characterised as ambivalent = partly a collective humanitarian exercise while simultaneously seen as weakening national security/ drawing on domestic resources etc. "Depoliticized and minimalist humanitarianism embodied in the Canadian refugee resettlement program is what precludes policy makers from recognizing and proactively supporting the high educational aspirations among newcomer refugee youth and their families" (p.74) = 'depoliticized humanitarianism'.
    Refugee youth act as "resettlement champions" for their families (p.74). Offers examples of how stakeholders in Canada's healthcare system advocated for better recognition of refugees; authors argue that educators can do the same.
    "There is urgent need to shift from depoliticized humanitarianism to transformative humanitarianism in which policy commitment to resettle refugees is buttressed by equitable and adequate supports" (p.75) and makes suggestions for reforming policy.

  • Aspirations: the moral of the story

    Date: 2016

    Author: Baker, W.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    Context: Discusses the poverty of aspirations thesis in modern UK political discourse; notes the research focused on this with relation to educational outcomes/ progression; notes scholarly concern with the highly individualistic focus of aspiration in policy rhetoric (see example quote from David Cameron on first page). Makes the argument that moral meanings = essential for making sense of the future; questions how unrealistic optimism comes into play if aspirations = only a reflection of resources and opportunity. Baker views aspirations as connected to the ways that education = valorised for offering possibilities for social mobility; also notes how ideals about good people and a 'good life' drive people's imaginaries: "This background, where economic ideas overlap and blend into moral criteria, provides an organising cultural schema for how many young people think about the future and interpret their decisions" (p.2). Offers literature review on definitions and studies of aspirations (p.3-4), and intersections with social class, ethnicity and economic background
    Aim: To focus on how aspirations relate/intersect with individual and collective identities, moral meaning attached to imagined futures and decision-making; to investigate "the normative dimensions of young peoples' aspirations and their lives more generally" (p.3). Draws on Bourdieuresian work but notes how reliance on his thinking tools has resulted in "little attention to actors' normative motivations and concerns" (p.4) because scholars drawing on Bourdieu tend to downplay 'value commitments and normative concerns' (conflated with social class)
    Theoretical frame: Moral meanings; draws from cultural sociology/ sociology of morality for insights into individual and collective identities: "The moral meaning that my interviewees attached to their aspirations can usefully be thought of as an overarching cognitive framework within which students organised their potential decisions and actions regarding the future" (p.7).
    Methodology: Qualitative: paper presents on data collected from a large multi-method study of young people's aspirations in England. Data reported = semi-structured interviews with students (n=29) studying at 6th form college in East London (SES/ethnically diverse community; _ = 'White British'; majority = BME). Questions asked about perceptions of what makes a 'good life'.
    Findings: Most students expressed a desire to remain in the education system (which = going to university). 22/29 = clear that attending uni was their primary goal, which included students whose achievement was low and the likelihood of progressing to uni was 'slim'. Only 5 spoke negatively about going to university/ wanting to enter labour market. Baker writes a 'striking' feature of data = 'normative evaluative way' participants described their goals: "They spoke about their aspirations not just in terms of gaining credentials to succeed in the labour market, but also in terms of self-development and how their choices reflected a commitment to values that were central to their identity" (p.5), which was matched with parents' reported aspirations for their children. Students may have been vague about exactly what work they aspired to do, but were clear about the kinds of people they wanted to be (see example of Rubel, p.6), which were broadly connected to wanting to be 'a good person'. University = seen as a way of developing 'moral self-improvement' (see Neilson, 2015; p.6). 2/3 of participants talked about view of university as helping them to 'grow as a person'. Author questions whether this sentiment reflects the not taken-for-grantedness of attending university (compared with more privileged students). Students stressed similar desires to 'help' in terms of their career aspirations. Students' talk identified a link between education and social esteem (shared perception of conferral of status/ value/ respect due to educational success). Religion = significant (see p.8).
    Aspirations also used to make distinctions between individuals and groups. Firstly, the participants "stressed both the importance of certain actions and attitudes, such as determination, to achieving ambitious goals and their commitment to traditional ideals about educational achievement and achieving a 'good' job" (p.8-9), and these were contrasted against 'negative' qualities (such as laziness). The ideal of working hard = significant; not having aspirations or working hard = stigmatized as a 'moral failure' (see p.9). Some students also expressed an egalitarian view - that all students could potentially get good marks - and that laziness was a key reason why this was not the case.
    Core argument: Offers analysis of aspirations as moral meanings for young people and their futures; "young people experience and interpret their educational and occupational aspirations as part of a normatively evaluative narrative about who they are and the sort of person they hope to become" (p.10), which offers a new insight into students' educational motivations and decision-making.

  • Aspire UWA: A case study of widening access in Higher Education

    Date: 2016

    Author: Skene, J.; Pollard, L.; House, H.

    Location: Australia

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    Context: The Aspire UWA program has 3 components: 1) a core learning framework for years 7-12, 2) outreach specifically for indigenous students and iii) a pathway program to medicine and dentistry and UWA. Staff deliver academic enrichment designed through the learning framework supported by current university students (ambassadors). Their model of sustained whole-of-school engagement encourages a school culture where high academic achievement is an expectation rather than the exception. The program aimed to target students who were "most able least likely" (Harris, 2010) and develop their confidence, academic attainment and aspiration to study at university. Given a wide variety of partner schools, from large, multicultural metropolitan schools to small, rural schools with large Indigenous populations, Aspire UWA has sought to be responsive to local contexts.
    Aim: To investigate whether long-term partnerships with schools affect the cultural change required to address the multiple factors that act as barriers to LSES students accessing HE.
    Theoretical frame: none
    Methodology: A case study of the first 7 years of Aspire UWA using quantitative and qualitative survey data and institutional access and participation data.
    Findings: School surveys. In a 2011 survey, 80% of school partners agreed that Aspire UWA enhanced student motivation, increased their awareness of HE, and increased their interest in specific areas of study. Of educators surveyed, 70% reported becoming more proactive in encouraging students to consider going to university since being in partnership with Aspire. In a 2013 survey, 88% of school partners agreed Aspire had increased the motivation of students to attend HE and 70% agreed that working with Aspire had strengthened the academic focus of the school.
    Access and participation data: An upward trend in enrolments at WA universities from Aspire schools between 2009 and 2014 has been identified (although there is no way of attributing this to Aspire programming directly). Students from Aspire schools have performed as well as students from non-Aspire schools once enrolled at UWA, even though they tended to have lower ATARs upon entry. Students from Aspire schools also had similar or better first-year retention rates than students from non-Aspire schools.
    Core argument: The WP literature suggests that cultural change in schools to raise the expectations of students about high academic achievement is critical to long-term success. The authors argue that this case study of suggests that UWA's approach of long-term school partnerships has been successful in changing the culture of the schools they work in and ultimately in increasing the numbers of students from these schools who attend university. They do not actually present convincing evidence of this, though.

  • Assessing the Impact of Withdrawal of Refugee Study Grants on Refugee Background Students at Tertiary Institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand

    Date: 2011

    Author: Joe, A.; Wilson, N.; Kindon, S.

    Location: New Zealand

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    Context: Refugee-background students in HE in NZ
    Aim: Explore how the withdrawal of Refugee Study Grants has impacted on the ability of Refugee Background Students to access tertiary education.
    Conclusions: The withdrawal of RSG means that access to specialist support (particularly for English) must be paid for as extra tuition, which restricts the majority of refugees from accessing these services. Regardless of these new barriers, students are still committed to study and have sought student loans or reduced the amount of time studied in order to pursue employment, or changed their courses to those that they hope will provide them with full employment. The withdrawal of the RSG when seen in this context is a glass ceiling on academic achievement for refugee background students. In order to mediate their challenges, RBS often cut back on food and transport, but unlike other equity groups these students face unique barriers to addressing their inequality, because of the specific forms of discrimination in the work place etc. that they may face.
    Methodological comments: Data based on questionnaire responses: qualitative data used to frame the study inquiry (i.e. through a student reference group) would have made the study inductive, and identified the issues that refugees themselves consider to be important. Students misunderstood the questions and instructions of the questionnaire. Some qualitative data was sourced in Phase 2 of the project; but the initial inquiry and phase 1 were based on questionnaires.
    Core argument: Argues that RBS are considered an equity group in HE. Provides a specific example of how, when policy that does not recognise RBS students is implemented, it can create unequal barriers to their access and participation in HE.

  • Assessing the transition between school and university: Differences in assessment between A levels and university in English

    Date: 2017

    Author: Wilson, F.; Child, S.; Suto, I.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    Context: Differences between assessments in A-levels and undergraduate courses in the UK because of concerns about students' preparedness for university study and high stakes assessments at the end of secondary schooling. At the time of writing, A-levels were undergoing reform. Authors review the structural differences between school and university (assessment types/ diversity of assessments; requirement of independent learning). Authors also consider the guidance and instructions given on assessment tasks, with the literature strongly suggesting that students are given more detail and guidance in A-level tasks
    Aim: To "compare the assessment of English literature at upper secondary level and the first year of university in England, focusing on the type of assessment used and the level of written guidance provided with the assessments" (p.189)
    Methodology: Document analysis: comparison between six A level English literature syllabuses and assessment materials typical for first year English literature from a range of universities (n=9). Description of coding framework on p.195-199.
    Findings: A-level assignments = closed book examinations, coursework (extended writing, creative writing, comparison writing). Reforms to A-levels = more assessment but similar variety as the previous system. University writing = more diverse, but closed book examination = similarly dominant.
    Only one assessment task for A-levels included structured questions, while these were more plentiful in the university courses. Types of guidance were different - A-levels = fewer than at university, and with less detail (e.g. 'half this essay should include' in university assignment brief)
    Core argument: Differences in the kinds of assessments used, the structure and guidance, and mark schemes contribute to transitional challenges that students experience - although the authors note that the summative assessments of A-levels are not necessarily representative of the whole experience. University course designers, particularly with regard to predicting how students will interpret guidance and assessment tasks.

  • Assessment as learning? How the use of explicit learning objectives, assessment criteria and feedback in post_secondary education and training can come to dominate learning

    Date: 2007

    Author: Torrance, H.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    Context: Formative assessment in post-compulsory education and training. Calls to shift from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. Author argues that while formative assessment has an increased role in post-secondary education (including A-levels, NVQs, Access, Basic Skills and Community Education), it is most commonly conceived in terms of criteria compliance and award achievement (p.282), which conversely promotes more reliance on tutors, rather than more autonomy and self-determination. Approaches towards transparency, such as exam coaching and practice, have resulted in more instrumentalism: "This might be characterized as a move from assessment of learning, through the currently popular idea of assessment for learning, to assessment as learning, where assessment procedures and practices come completely to dominate the learning experience, and 'criteria compliance' comes to replace 'learning'" (p.282)
    Aim:
    Methodology: Case study approach ('vertical investigations' - from awarding body through institution to learner). Interviews with learners (n=237) and 'assessors' (n=95) + survey responses (n=260)
    Findings:
    Achievement described in narrow and instrumental terms: "securing the evidence to complete a portfolio and/or the 'necessary' or 'expected' grades to accomplish an award" (p.284).
    Failure = defined as not completing the award/ not securing the needed grades.
    Author notes how modularized courses (such as A-levels) allow students to game the system by retaking assessments to get better grades. Also, tutors break down assessments and assessment codes to help students, and also by them marking for exam boards: "Such involvement helps to develop teachers' understanding of the assessment process and criteria which, in turn, they pass on to students through exam coaching" (p.285).
    Author argues that coaching in itself is not inappropriate, but it can create/ contribute to inequitable conditions.
    Assessment as learning is where "assessment procedures and processes completely dominat[e] the teaching and learning experience" (p.291)
    Core argument: Formative assessment is useful but "Making learning objectives and instructional processes more explicit calls into question the validity and worthwhileness of the outcomes achieved" (p.291).

  • Assessment of Learning in the Context of Equity and Power

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    This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

  • Assisting Transition to University: Using Assessment as a Formative Learning Tool

    Date: 2011

    Author: Fisher, R.; J. Cavanagh; A. Bowles

    Location: Australia

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    Context: Transition to first-year university studies can be stressful for students and is generally when the risk is highest for students discontinuing study. Early intervention - particularly by enabling student participation in learning - from faculty and staff has been shown to greatly improve student experience and likelihood of remaining at uni.
    Aim: To "present an approach that is designed to address issues of transition to university through the lens of engagement and formative assessment" (225).
    Theoretical frame: N/A
    Methodology: Multi-method approach of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis undertaken as a case study.
    Findings: Students who participated in the intervention achieved higher marks and grades (7.1% higher) than non-participating students in the first subject where the intervention was offered. Three main themes from the qualitative research designated as: (1) improving marks, (2) enabling understanding, and (3) utility of the intervention in transition.
    Core argument: Intervention facilitates significantly higher marks in assessments and grades, while assisting student learning overall.

  • Attrition and Equity in Higher Education

    Date: 2016

    Author: Beer, C.; Lawson, C.

    Location: Australia

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    Context: Student attrition is a significant and costly challenge for HE institutions globally. In Australia, universities cite the importance of addressing student attrition through strategic statements, policy documents, and expenditure of time and resources on the problem. Despite vast expenditure, Australian universities have made little progress in curbing student attrition, which negatively impacts reputation and revenue in HE institutions.
    Aim: To determine why current responses to address attrition in HE have been unsuccessful and to illustrate how the 'reconceptualisation of attrition' (p. 2) can contribute towards improved outcomes for HE institutions.
    Theoretical frame: Not specified in study.
    Methodology: Main approach: A qualitative analysis of free text responses to a non-re-enrolment survey. Data collection method: Survey (Closed and open responses). Sample: CQUniversity - a regional Australian university, with multiple campuses; possesses one of the highest attrition rates in the Australian HE sector. Participants: Undergraduate & postgraduate students (n=2643), who had not re-enrolled for two/more consecutive terms. Responses: 402/2643 (16% response rate); 24% internal students, 76% distance learning students, 40% male & 60% female students. Data analysis: Quantitative survey questions initially analysed by CQUniversity attrition task force; 402 free-text responses on students' decision not to re-enrol were analysed by authors thematically.
    Findings: 1) 94/402 responses attributed their decision to depart to a combination of factors, instead of a single factor. 2) Work & family were the biggest factors contributing to students' decisions to leave the university. 3)Majority of students cited micro-level factors for their departure (eg: family, personal reasons, financial issues, academic capability).
    Discussion: 1) Reasons for attrition extend beyond the individual or local levels and can be influenced to varying degrees by broader political, professional and societal issues in addition to institutional and individual student issues (Urwin et al. 2010). These issues can be characterised as micro-level, meso-level and macro-level factors. 2) A range of factors that are interconnected between the micro, meso and macro levels can cause a student to drop out of their studies. This makes it difficult for a university to clearly map the causes of attrition in order to develop targeted interventions.
    Core argument: Due to the interconnected and contextually dependent variety of factors that contribute to student attrition, reductionist solutions based on simple models of the problem cannot meaningfully address the problem. Universities should re-conceptualise student attrition as a wicked problem, which cuts across hierarchical and administrative structures within, and external to, organisations. Consequently, HE institutions should student address attrition via collaborative strategies, a networked approach where the power to investigate the problem and develop solutions is shared across stakeholders.

  • Attrition in the Context of Equity and Higher Education

    Themes:

    lensResearch
    lensOpen Access Bibliography
    lensHigher Education

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    This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

  • Australian universities, generic skills and lifelong learning

    Date: 2009

    Author: Pitman, T.; Broomhall, S.

    Location: Australia

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    Context: Focus on policy imperative for university study to provide students with metaskills needed for 21st century workplace (aka generic skills or graduate attributes), which include proficiency in communication, interpersonal skills, high-order reasoning, critical thinking and the ability to use technology. Authors question whether generic skills and graduate attributes = same thing (and what = connection to lifelong learning). Governments tend to position lifelong learning in terms of maximizing economic benefits; universities tend to foreground social agenda (means of meeting needs of diverse learners) not ignoring the economic benefits. Prevalence of discourses around lifelong learning = unsurprising that universities seek to demonstrate benefits delivered to students from their institution that will position them as important players in any holistic lifelong learning agenda (p.441). Embedding generic skills = one way to counter criticisms about lowering quality of courses (e.g. courses in surfing; see Nelson reviews, 2002-3); generic skills also give universities = competitive edge over other sectors (e.g. VET) and providers seen in term graduate attributes. Sets of generic skills set out in two major reports: Finn committee report (1991) and Mayer committee report (1992) = key competencies, Conflation of generic skills and graduate attributes suggests that the two terms have been used with relatively little consideration of distinctions between the kinds of learning that they imply conceptually or delineate in practice (p.444).
    Aim:
    Theoretical frame:
    Methodology: Desktop audit and content analysis of 38 universities (Aus) websites for formal statements pertaining to graduate attributes
    Discussion:
    ¥ 37/38 universities refer to graduate attributes
    ¥ 34/38 universities offer detailed information about what the attributes are (in university policy/ teaching and learning guidelines/ handbooks)
    ¥ 25 distinct attributes found across Australian universities (Table 1, p.445)
    ¥ 33/34 mention communication skills, followed by interpersonal skills and problem solving
    ¥ 5/34 explicitly mention numeracy skills; numeracy is sometimes collapsed into self-confidence or other attitudinal categories
    ¥ Many universities include mastery of disciplinary knowledge (or related) = marker of difference, especially for Go8; this represents a significant reformulation of the supposed purpose to which defining specific generic skills responds, that the knowledge of whole disciplines can be reduced to an educational graduate attribute or skill (p.446)
    ¥ Some attributes = related to character, moral, ethical traits (e.g. cultural awareness) = value or skill?
    Patterns of attributes across university groupings: Go8 = more likely to list behaving ethically (86% compared to average high 50s%); awareness and respect of others = more common in new universities (89% compared to 57% in Go8). Diversity = suggests that, although the sector as a whole has taken a united approach to the re-definition of generic skills as graduate attributes, the correlation of these attributes to sectoral position within the market still indicates considerable institutional variance (p.447).
    Authors note critique of underlying assumptions (disadvantaging particular students, based on normative assumptions about language and culture, assumptions about ways of assessing competency.
    They raise questions about what kinds of attributes are valued (e.g. universities judge students on prior attributes/ generic skills gained prior to university; assumptions are made about what students have learnt through an undergraduate degree but prior learning is not valued as recognised prior learning (RPL)
    ¥ Only 29/38 = allow students to use RPL
    ¥ 24/28 = have a written policy about RPL
    Thus = contradiction between lifelong learning and recognising learning that happened prior to university.
    Discussion of STAT test (p.452-454)
    Core argument: Generic skills = problematise the notion of university study as part of lifelong learning = deep reservations about concept of, underpinning assumptions and assessment of generic skills/ graduate attributes, with a tendency towards abstract characteristics rather than objective skills. At the same time, recognition of graduate skills = unevenly handled across the sector (p.455), in terms of students being able to demonstrate competency through prior study.

  • Avoiding the Manufacture of 'Sameness': First-in-family Students, Cultural Capital and the Higher Education Movement

    Date: 2015

    Author: O'Shea, S.

    Location: Australia

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    Context: Works from field of research into FinF that has used capital as framing, leading to institutional strategies working from an 'empty vessel' model of teaching/ transitions; however, "such an approach is fundamentally flawed, as students can be either framed as deficit or replete in capitals depending on how their particular background and capabilities are perceived" (p.1). Title draws from work by Bejarano and Valverde (2012) that argued how university strategies seek to 'manufacture sameness' by reducing reliance on the familial/ social contexts in efforts to acculturate students into the academy.
    Aim: To examine how FinF students manage transitions into higher education; examine what would happen in FinF were considered through strengths view rather than deficit: to explore "how a strengths based model, such as Yosso's, can enable data to be unpacked in order to re-envisage what is assumed to be a weakness or lack in terms of strengths" (p.2).
    Theoretical frame: Bourdieu: social and cultural capital = typical framing (e.g. King et al.2015); uses Yosso's Community Cultural Wealth framework (see also Harwood et al. 2015). Draws on Appadurai (2004) in discussion of aspirational capital
    Methodology: Qualitative study. In-depth interviews with 23 FinF students (who represent approximately 15% of student body but no systematic measures used to collect data on FinF). Reasonable diversity in participants (all Anglo-Australians, mix of genders and ages, some multicultural connections, mix of disciplines and previous occupations). Interviews on experiences/perceptions of university, reactions from friends and family.
    Findings:
    Many students found starting university overwhelming, especially for older participants
    Aspirational capital = form of resilience to permit possibility of dreaming. Data suggests that attending university = long held dream for several students
    Resistant capital = knowledges and practices developed out of resisting subordination ('resistance to the status quo', p.14) - especially for older women. This = increased through "Both family and community, or what Yosso terms as familial capital, also complemented this personal agency, limiting the isolation of individuals by providing embodied support" (p.14).
    Familial capital = in particular, importance of children in making decision to go to university and support of spouses/partners/parents
    Experiential capital = a priori knowledge provides 'significant capital', especially for older students
    Core argument: In foregrounding the intersectionality between diversity of factors, moves away from reductive simplifications of 'FinF' and recognises multiplicity of experiences and strengths (thus resisting deficit framings) - if students don't have a familial educational memory of higher education to draw on, they have "other more
    fundamental but equally rich personal resources drawn upon in this transition" (p.12). Need to reimagine ways of integrating students in: "This reconceptualisation should consider the very strong capitals that learners arrive with, regardless of ethnicity, SES status or educational background" (p.17).

  • Balancing national versus local priorities: analysing 'local' responses to the national
    widening participation agenda in six case study
    HEIs

    Date: 2011

    Author: Graham, C.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    Context: UK HE context post-2007 - 'negotiations' of national policy to local interpretations flows of discourse and practice around WP. Draws on perceptions of WP managers. Author notes how the UK national message on WP = "deliberately fuzzy" which "allowed widening participation, on the surface, to appear to be the kind of policy that was uncontroversial - offering a win-win outcome to both students and society" (p.15) = weak framing because multiple interpretations possible in practice.
    Aim: To examine how 6 HEIs mediated the national WP agenda in/for local contexts; "to consider how six case study universities 'framed' or communicated their commitment to widening participation across a range of different settings" (p.13).
    Theoretical frame: Draws on Edwards et al.'s (2009) adaptation of Bernstein's ideas to organisational contexts - in particular the 'mediational power of institutions' (2009:60); also uses Bernstein's notion of 'framing' to analyse discourses at play (CDA). Framing = "the regulation of communication in organizational contexts" (p.14) = "Therefore, where widening participation is strongly framed, staff within an institution are likely to appear to give a consistent message when speaking about the institution's commitment to widening participation" (p.14). Strength of framing is important (through consistent discursive practices)
    Methodology: See Graham (2013)
    Findings: Three of case study HEIs described WP as part of core mission and pre-dated New Labour policy: "The widening participation managers in the post-92 case study institutions often described a more embedded approach to widening participation, whereby there was no separate 'widening participation' function" (p.18). Comments from WP managers at 6 HEIs suggested weak commitment to WP," with its place in the mission or corporate strategy being contingent upon continued government support and/or the ability of widening participation to fit with pre-existing corporate objectives that were designed to preserve or enhance the status of the institution" (p.18).
    All 6 HEIs demonstrated commitment to WP in corporate strategy.
    Ideological conflict between WP and RG university's academic mission/ local agenda noted by RG participant (see p.20). Post-1992 participant's talk suggests WP is also part of market survival ('We've got to be a welcoming institution ... otherwise where are we going to get these students from?') p.21 = strong overlaps between recruitment and WP, and seen as benefit to HEI before community.
    All HEIs pointed to individual staff = enthusiastic to do WP work. As result of weak framing = different 'voicing sets' emerge: "there is scope for a variety of different 'voicing sets' within the institution. Some staff will express a commitment to widening participation work while others will not" (p.24).
    Core argument: The relatively weak national framing of WP led to possibilities for flexibility in terms of uptake but meant that it "appeared to foster a degree of 'picking and choosing' when it came to the delivery of widening participation work" for some HEIs (RG universities in particular) - p.13

  • Bastard' daughters in the ivory tower: Illegitimacy and the higher education experiences of single mothers in the UK

    Date: 2018

    Author: Gagnon, J.

    Location: United Kingdom

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    Context: UK higher education; author is the daughter of a single parent: "My higher education experiences have made me feel like my presence, as a first generation student from a working-class, single mother family, bastardises academia itself" (p.563). Author notes that in the UK, one quarter of families are recorded as single parent, and 92% of single parents are women (Office for National Statistics, 2012), and are more likely to live in poverty. Studies suggest that children of single parents are less likely to participate in higher education (author contests the premise on which these claims are made). Author makes connections between questions of familial legitimacy (what is a 'legitimate' family) with questions of legitimacy about who university students are/should be ('bastardising the academy'). Author offers a social history of single parenthood (p.565-67)
    Aim: To explore issues of legitimacy among university students who are the daughters of single parents; to ask the question "in what ways are the cultures and practices of higher education reinforcing norms about who is recognised and who is misrecognised, about who is and who is not legitimate within the ivory tower?" (p.563); to explore "notions of legitimacy and misrecognition within the university experiences of the daughters of single mothers who are first generation students" (p.568).
    Theoretical frame: Feminist theory (Butler, 1988), intersectionality, social exclusion, misrecognition
    Methodology: Qualitative; semi-structured interviews and reflective writing from undergraduate women who are daughters of single parents (n=26; 22 still studying; 4 recent graduates). Details of participants + author's inclusion criteria articulated on p.568.
    Findings:
    Pretending to fit in: some participants try to 'pass' as 'normal' (read from two-parent families) or conceal their status. One student answered a question about what she hoped to gain from attending university as 'respectability'. Starting university offered a possibility to craft a new identity/ work from a blank slate; for some this was because they had experienced negative reactions when they had previously disclosed their status. Another strategy (more related to classism/ racism) was to lighten/ disguise their accent/ adopting 'middle-class mannerisms' (p.571); another student favoured silence over perceived judgement. Author describes this in terms of misrecognition; "For many underrepresented students, their university experiences are shaped by their fears of being 'outed' as not belonging, of being revealed as illegitimate compared to their peers" (p.572).
    Core argument: Legitimacy relates to notions of recognition and belonging; the participants in this study (in ways that were also classed, racialized): "Their university experiences are often marked by many reminders, both subtle and overt, of the ways they do not fit within the 'ideal' student norm, of the ways that they are misrecognised and made to feel like they are not legitimate" (p.573).