The University of Newcastle is proposing targeted support for institutions providing first-rate education for students from equity groups in response to the recently announced Review of the Demand Driven System.
The University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said that recent media commentary linking increased participation of students from equity groups in university education with 'falling academic standards' could result in 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.
"We appreciate that widening access to education may not align with the mission or focus of all of Australia's universities, and suggest that it would be appropriate to consider how best to target support to those institutions with a 'first-rate' track record in broadening access, increasing participation and delivering results," Professor McMillen said.
"There are a number of leading Australian universities that have developed programs which provide tailored academic and non-academic support to a diverse range of students including those from low socioeconomic or Indigenous backgrounds that have resulted in strong retention and success rates for these students.
"We note, however, that these programs have often been developed by institutions which have made a strong commitment to broadening access to a university education over several decades.
"Our University, which is in Australia's top 10 Universities for research excellence, was also among the first in Australia to introduce enabling programs and is the country's largest provider of these programs. We also have the largest number of Indigenous students enrolled in Australia.
"The percentage of undergraduate students from low SES backgrounds enrolled at the University of Newcastle is 27.9%, compared to the national average of 17.1% and the student retention rate is 84.9%. At the University there is a 0.3% difference in success rates between low SES students and those from other backgrounds."
Professor Andrew Parfitt, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Newcastle noted that: "The Review of the Demand Driven system is timely given the recent predictions by the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency that Australia is facing a deficit of up to 280,000 qualified people by 2025 to support innovative industries and businesses."
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