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Deakin University’s Professor Marcia Devlin has been named leader of a national research project to examine effective teaching and support of students in Australian higher education from low socioeconomic (LSES) backgrounds.
Funded by an Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Strategic Priority Project grant of $220,000, Professor Devlin, who is inaugural Chair in Higher Education Research at Deakin University, will lead a six-member, cross institutional team.
Comprising researchers from Deakin, Queensland University of Technology and Charles Sturt University, the team will examine existing practice and interview staff and students in institutions and on campuses with high concentrations of low SES students to learn from existing expertise within the Australian context where it is already concentrated.
Following the response of the Federal government to the 2008 Bradley Review of higher education and the target of an increase in the number and proportion of LSES students participating in higher education within the next decade, this project is timely.
“The research is underpinned by the view that the sector should be focusing not only on the recruitment, but also on retention and success, of low SES students as we strive to meet the target,” Professor Devlin said.
“In order to meet the national LSES goal, proactive work towards increasing the retention of and ensuring a high quality experience for all students is necessary. This project aims to spearhead that work.”
The findings will be used to guide the development of a conceptual framework relevant to the Australian context as well as advice for policy makers, teaching and learning leaders, academic staff and those involved in professional development. Professor Devlin said that a particular feature of the research will be a focus on practical outcomes, including the development of an accessible repository of effective policy, programs and practice.
Professor Devlin said that students from LSES backgrounds may have particular challenges to overcome in order to succeed at university. The research is aimed at assisting students to overcome these challenges through more inclusive teaching and targeted support.
The research however, will not just contribute to enhancing the experiences of LSES students.
“The outcomes of this research will be of benefit to all university students,” Professor Devlin said.
The research will include a literature review and an environmental scan of the available evidence of curricular and co-curricular initiatives, and leadership arrangements, that contribute to the effective engagement and learning of students from LSES backgrounds. Interviews with staff and students at universities, and particular campuses of universities, where there are high proportions of students from LSES backgrounds will interrogate existing expertise within the Australian context where it is already concentrated.
Feedback on a preliminary discussion paper based on the findings from the literature and interviews will be used to develop the proposed new resources. Finally, there will be a formal launch of the project resources.
The research finding will be used to develop a central repository of resources of a practical nature housed by Deakin University, that will assist universities to provide premium learning and other experiences for LSES students at university.
Previous research, as well as anecdotal evidence, indicates that Australian higher education sector is hungry for this new research and for the practical resources it will produce.
“There has been no large scale work of this nature undertaken in Australia to date,” Professor Devlin said.
“The team is very excited by this opportunity to work in collaboration with the ALTC and to bring their significant expertisein student equity, curriculum and leadership development and higher education research to a project that will actively engage with a wide range of stakeholders across the sector and internationally.”