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Dr Anna Bennett

Senior Lecturer

Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies

Disrupting entrenched inequalities in higher education

Challenging everyday taken-for-granted assumptions and unrecognised historical habits is key to achieving more equitable education systems.

Picture of Dr Anna Bennett

Sociologist Dr Anna Bennett works to identify the underlying powerful, but often ‘invisible’, assumptions that serve to continue enduring inequities in higher education. Identifying and then disrupting these assumptions and habits is the goal of her research.

Dr Bennett believes education systems have a responsibility to the people they serve - to challenge inaccurate, socio-culturally biased and outdated assumptions at broader systematic and everyday levels rather than continuing to better serve those already more advantaged in society.

“Inclusion, social justice and mutual engagement need to be front-and-centre of higher education and central to the design and delivery of course content,” said Dr Bennett.

Dr Bennett explains that mainstream education is still based on a relatively narrow and linear notion of performance to indicate ability and that it is becoming more focused on measurement rather than learning. This limits, rather than develops, opportunities to benefit from education.

“The elephant-in-the-classroom is the set of presumptions made about who is suitable for higher education. It is very concerning that judgements about who is academically able, or not, are continuing to be made very early in children’s lives. This approach limits opportunities for students who have had educational challenges in the past for many different reasons and it undermines what education is about: opportunities and learning for all in systems that do not limit future success only to those who have already been judged ‘academically capable’ early in school.”

CAPABILITY IS RELATIONAL

In a recent study, Capability Belonging and Equity in Higher Education (2015), Dr Bennett and colleagues found that there are serious consequences to deeply held, widespread assumptions and related stereotypes about who belongs and is capable in higher education and who is not, because this fosters fears of incapability and a sense of a lack of belonging for many students.

“Our assumptions about what education is, and especially what capability, talent and potential are, are currently disconnected from the significance of our relationships with others, location, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and recognition of the importance of change in meeting new needs specific to historical context.”

“We need to reconsider and redraft educational frameworks to suit new approaches to learning that better serve our diverse populations. The expertise and alternatives are there, and drawing on these features and principles to lead the way is not difficult.”

EVIDENCE OF IMPACT

Dr Bennett explains that evidence collected through a major national study she recently led shows that the most effective equity programs are student and stakeholder-centred and context-specific. Conducted with colleagues from the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University, the Critical Interventions Framework 2 (CIF 2) study was commissioned by the Australian Government and identifies initiatives that provide evidence they are effective, from school outreach through to postgraduate programs. “It is the first national rigorous review to capture effective initiatives across Australian higher education. Importantly, the study also shows that research is very important for evaluating equity programs to ensure that money invested is money well spent” says Dr Bennett.

Dr Bennett is proud to be Convenor of the Open Foundation program, which is the oldest and largest open-access enabling program in Australia. “The program is free and open to everyone and because of this, its scale and its success in enabling approx. 40,000 people of all ages and backgrounds to access and succeed at university, for well over 40 years, it is impressive on a global scale. It is a model many institutions continue to be inspired and influenced by.”

Dr Bennett is also currently exploring the importance of time and how it impacts on a student through a project funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

Disrupting entrenched inequalities in higher education

Dr Anna Bennett is challenging everyday taken-for-granted assumptions and unrecognised historical habits to achieve more equitable education systems

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Career Summary

Biography

Dr. Anna Bennett has a PhD in Sociology and applies sociological theory and concepts to better understand social phenomena. Current research areas include: discourses of equity and participation in higher education, identities and subject positions in higher education, and notions and implications of neoliberalism. In addition to leading the Critical Interventions Framework Part 2 (2015), Anna is involved in various research projects, including the recent NCSEHE project about student capability and belonging (2015). Highlighted publications include ‘Excavating widening participation policy in Australian higher education: subject positions, representational effects, emotion’ (2014) and her book entitled The Power Paradox (2012) develops conceptual tools for studying power relations. Anna’s latest (2015) book is a co-edited collection entitled Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, which includes two co-authored chapters called ‘Interrogating assumptions of rational choice in Australian widening participation discourse: theoretical counterpoints’ and 'Global Perspectives on Widening Participation: Approaches and Concepts'.

Research Expertise
Anna is Editor of the International Studies in Widening Participation journal.

Anna is a member of the editorial board for Teaching in Higher Education

Teaching and Administrative Expertise
Anna is Convenor of the University of Newcastle’s adult enabling program, which is open entry and enables people to qualify for entry into various degree programs across Australia through the UAC. 


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
  • Bachelor of Social Studies, University of Sydney
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle

Keywords

  • Political Sociology
  • Sociology
  • Sociology of Education

Languages

  • English (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
160809 Sociology of Education 40
169999 Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified 10
160899 Sociology not elsewhere classified 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies
Australia
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Highlighted Publications

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Shah M, Bennett A, Southgate E, Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, Chandos Publishing, Oxford, 264 (2016)
Citations Scopus - 1
Co-authors Mahsood Shah, Erica Southgate
2016 Burke PJ, Bennett AK, Burgess C, Gray K, Southgate E, 'Capability, Belonging and Equity In Higher Education: Developing Inclusive Approaches', NCSEHE, 103 (2016)
Co-authors Pennyjane Burke, Erica Southgate, Kim Gray
2016 Southgate E, Bennett AK, 'University Choosers and Refusers: Social Theory, Ideas of "Choice" and Implications for Widening Participation', Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, Elsevier Chandos, Amsterdam 225-240 (2016) [B1]
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-08-100213-1.00014-7
Co-authors Erica Southgate
2016 Bennett AK, 'Equity Initiatives in Australian Higher Education: A Review of Evidence of Impact', The work described in this report was funded by a grant from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. The grant was made under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (2016)

Book (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Shah M, Bennett A, Southgate E, Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, Chandos Publishing, Oxford, 264 (2016)
Citations Scopus - 1
Co-authors Mahsood Shah, Erica Southgate
2012 Bennett AK, The Power Paradox: A Toolkit for Analyzing Conflict and Extremism, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 137 (2012) [A1]

Chapter (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Bennett AK, Southgate E, Shah M, 'Global Perspectives on Widening Participation: Approaches and Concepts', Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, Elsevier Chandos, Amsterdam 241-253 (2016)
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-08-100213-1.00015-9
Co-authors Mahsood Shah, Erica Southgate
2016 Southgate E, Bennett AK, 'University Choosers and Refusers: Social Theory, Ideas of "Choice" and Implications for Widening Participation', Widening Higher Education Participation: A Global Perspective, Elsevier Chandos, Amsterdam 225-240 (2016) [B1]
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-08-100213-1.00014-7
Co-authors Erica Southgate
1999 Bennett AK, 'Feminismos y pedagogías en la vida cotidiana', Feminismos y pedagogías en la vida cotidiana, Ediciones Morata, Madrid, Spain (1999)
1996 Bennett AK, 'Feminisms and Pedagogies of Everyday Life', Feminisms and Pedagogies of Everyday Life, SUNY Press, New York (1996)
Show 1 more chapter

Journal article (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Brosnan C, Southgate E, Outram S, Lempp H, Wright S, Saxby T, et al., 'Experiences of medical students who are first in family to attend university', Medical Education, 50 842-851 (2016)

© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and The Association for the Study of Medical Education.Context: Students from backgrounds of low socio-economic status (SES) or who are first in fami... [more]

© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and The Association for the Study of Medical Education.Context: Students from backgrounds of low socio-economic status (SES) or who are first in family to attend university (FiF) are under-represented in medicine. Research has focused on these students¿ pre-admission perceptions of medicine, rather than on their lived experience as medical students. Such research is necessary to monitor and understand the potential perpetuation of disadvantage within medical schools. Objectives: This study drew on the theory of Bourdieu to explore FiF students¿ experiences at one Australian medical school, aiming to identify any barriers faced and inform strategies for equity. Methods: Twenty-two FiF students were interviewed about their backgrounds, expectations and experiences of medical school. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically. Findings illustrate the influence and interaction of Bourdieu's principal forms of capital (social, economic and cultural) in FiF students¿ experiences. Results: The absence of health professionals within participants¿ networks (social capital) was experienced as a barrier to connecting with fellow students and accessing placements. Financial concerns were common among interviewees who juggled paid work with study and worried about expenses associated with the medical programme. Finally, participants¿ ¿medical student¿ status provided access to new forms of cultural capital, a transition that was received with some ambivalence by participants themselves and their existing social networks. Conclusions: This study revealed the gaps between the forms of capital valued in medical education and those accessible to FiF students. Admitting more students from diverse backgrounds is only one part of the solution; widening participation strategies need to address challenges for FiF students during medical school and should enable students to retain, rather than subdue, their existing, diverse forms of social and cultural capital. Embracing the diversity sought in admissions is likely to benefit student learning, as well as the communities graduates will serve. Change must ideally go beyond medical programmes to address medical culture itself.

DOI 10.1111/medu.12995
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
Co-authors Erica Southgate, Caragh Brosnan, Sue Outram, Brian Kelly
2015 Buchanan RA, Southgate E, Bennett A, 'Editorial: Social justice in the enterprise university: global perspectives on theory, policy, ethics and critical practice', International Studies in Widening Participation, 2 1-3 (2015) [C3]
Co-authors Rachel Buchanan, Erica Southgate
2014 Southgate E, Bennett A, 'Excavating widening participation policy in Australian higher education: subject positions, representational effects, emotion', Creative Approaches to Research, 7 21-45 (2014) [C1]
Co-authors Erica Southgate
2012 Bennett AK, Hodges BE, Kavanagh KO, Fagan SJ, Hartley JH, Schofield NJ, ''Hard' and 'soft' aspects of learning as investment: Opening up the neo-liberal view of a programme with 'high' levels of attrition', Widening Participation & Lifelong Learning, 14 141-156 (2012) [C1]
Co-authors Seamus Fagan
Show 1 more journal article

Conference (10 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Bennett AK, '¿One size does not fit all¿: theorising the measurement of equity initiatives to deconstruct limited spatio-temporalities of purpose and impact', onverging Concepts in Global Higher Education Research: Local, national and international perspectives (2016)
2015 Burke PJ, Bennett AK, 'Capability, belonging and mis/recognition in higher education', SRHE Annual Conference Papers (2015) [E1]
Co-authors Pennyjane Burke
2015 Brosnan CJ, Southgate E, Outram S, Kelly B, Harris G, Saxby T, et al., ''It all seemed a bit too big for little old me': Understanding the experiences of medical students who are first in the family to attend university.' (2015) [E3]
Co-authors Sue Outram, Erica Southgate, Brian Kelly, Caragh Brosnan
2013 Bennett AK, 'The non-traditional student within the higher education marketplace: an analysis of student expectations of Enabling university programs', NAEEA Conference Program (2013) [E3]
2013 Bennett AK, Fagan S, 'Beyond self-doubt: techniques to counter the ¿Impostor-Syndrome'', National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia Conference (2013) [E3]
2012 Hodges BE, Bedford T, Bennett AK, Hartley JH, Kavanagh KO, Klinger C, et al., 'Enabling retention: Understanding and improving student retention rates in Australian university enabling programs', Conference Handbook. Foundation & Bridging Educators New Zealand Inaugural Conference 2012 (2012) [E3]
2012 Bennett AK, 'Alternative pathways to higher education in Australia: The importance of enabling and empowerment beyond mainstream conventions', Conference Handbook. Foundation & Bridging Educators New Zealand Inaugural Conference 2012 (2012) [E3]
2012 Bunn RJ, Bennett AK, Southgate EL, Cooper SA, Kavanagh KO, ''Wow, I didn't know that!' The benefits of taking a collaborative approach to transition experiences of enabling students into Undergraduate Education Programs', Conference Handbook. Foundation & Bridging Educators New Zealand Inaugural Conference 2012 (2012) [E3]
Co-authors Rosalie Bunn, Erica Southgate, Sharon Cooper
2011 Bennett AK, 'A case study of perceptions of power: Clubs Australia, pokies and the politics of 'spin'', Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Conference: Local Lives/Global Networks (2011) [E3]
2011 Bennett AK, Burgess CA, 'Challenges at the cultural interface: The hidden academic cultural curriculum', Proceedings of the 1st International Australasian Conference On Enabling Access To Higher Education (2011) [E1]
Show 7 more conferences

Other (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Bennett A, Buchanan R, Southgate E, 'Editors: Social justice in the enterprise university: global perspectives on theory, policy, ethics and critical practice', ( issue.2) (2015)
Co-authors Rachel Buchanan, Erica Southgate
2013 Brosnan C, Southgate E, MacQueen S, Kelly B, Outram S, Rubin M, et al., 'Faculty of education and arts strategic networks and pilot projects scheme', Equity in Elite Degrees: social difference, institutional practice and processes of change (2013)

Report (3 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Burke PJ, Bennett AK, Burgess C, Gray K, Southgate E, 'Capability, Belonging and Equity In Higher Education: Developing Inclusive Approaches', NCSEHE, 103 (2016)
Co-authors Pennyjane Burke, Erica Southgate, Kim Gray
2016 Bennett AK, 'Equity Initiatives in Australian Higher Education: A Review of Evidence of Impact', The work described in this report was funded by a grant from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. The grant was made under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (2016)
2013 Bennett AK, Powter D, Goode E, Clark H, 'Program Self Review Report 2013, Open Foundation Program', University of Newcastle, NSW, 32 (2013)
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 8
Total funding $517,192

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20163 grants / $210,827

A comparative evaluation of the efficacy of the equity strategies employed by Australian universities$156,686

Funding body: Department of Education

Funding body Department of Education
Scheme Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2016
GNo
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON N

It's About Time: working towards more equitable understandings of the impact of time for students in higher education$34,191

Funding body: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)

Funding body National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)
Project Team Professor Penny Jane Burke, Doctor Anna Bennett, Professor Jacqueline Stevenson
Scheme Research Grants Program
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2016
GNo G1600939
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC
UON Y

Enabling Pedagogies and Transitions $19,950

Funding body: Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education

Funding body Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education
Project Team

Bennett, A., Motta, S., Burgess, C., Gray, K., Hamilton, E., Relf, B., Leroy-Dyer, S. and Albright, J.

Scheme Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2017
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

20152 grants / $234,952

Critical Interventions Framework Part 2$205,262

Funding body: Department of Education

Funding body Department of Education
Project Team Doctor Anna Bennett, Ms Belinda Munn, Professor Geoff Whitty, Professor Jennifer Gore, Professor Max Smith
Scheme Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme
Role Lead
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1501186
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC
UON Y

Capability, Belonging and Equity in Higher Education: Developing Inclusive Approaches$29,690

Funding body: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)

Funding body National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)
Project Team Professor Penny Jane Burke, Doctor Anna Bennett, Associate Professor Seamus Fagan, Mrs Cathy Burgess, Associate Professor Jane Maguire, Doctor Erica Southgate, Doctor Shamus Smith
Scheme Research Grants Program
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1500360
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC
UON Y

20142 grants / $62,336

Overcoming limiting notions of academic capability: strategies to improve the participation and completion rates of students from non-traditional and low socio-economic backgrounds$47,336

 The project team will work to find ways to understand students’ perceptions about what capability involves so that students unfamiliar with the field are provided with enabling information and pedagogies.

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team

Anna Bennett

Scheme Special Project Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

FACULTY OF EDUCATION AND ARTS STRATEGIC NETWORKS AND PILOT PROJECTS SCHEME$15,000

Over the last 30 years, a defining feature of higher education has been its massification. However, elite degrees (e.g. medicine, law, engineering) continue to include low proportions of non-traditional students (working class or first-generation). These degrees represent the last bastion of equity practice in universities. Internationally there is very limited research in this area. This project takes a 3-pronged, mixed-methods approach to understanding social difference and equity practice within elite degrees, with a view to informing the evidence base, policy debate and practical approaches to enabling non-traditional students to succeed in these areas.

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team

Caragh Brosnan

Scheme Strategic Networks Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

20121 grants / $9,077

Establishing effective and sustainable links between Enabling and undergraduate programs by examining the transitions of ELFSC students$9,077

This project explored the double-transition that Enabling pathways students experience during their time at the University of Newcastle, having first transitioned into a university preparation program and then into an undergraduate degree.

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team

Anna Bennett

Scheme CTL grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2012
Funding Finish 2012
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N
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Dr Anna Bennett

Position

Senior Lecturer
Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies
Academic Division

Contact Details

Email anna.bennett@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5378

Office

Room MCG46
Building McMullin
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