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Centre of Excellence for
EQUITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Research

All divisions of the University are actively involved with improving equity and accessibility in higher education. Below is a snapshot of research in this field that has been carried out across numerous divisions, faculties and centres of the University of Newcastle.


Culture and Agency

Students from low SES backgrounds are not only less likely to participate in higher education overall, but also less likely to participate in high status degrees and enrol in the most prestigious universities. This project was awarded a $275,265 2014 HEPP National Priority Pool grant to address this seemingly intractable problem by mapping the specific occupational interests and education intentions of school students from Years 3-12 to inform targeted university outreach activities.

The project does so by adding value to an existing dataset of 10,000 survey and focus groups involving 700 students gathered through the Aspirations Longitudinal Study. Analyses will be conducted to investigate which students (individually and by SES, prior achievement, gender, location, ethnicity and Indigenous status) express interest in what careers, why and at what points in their schooling. 

This project will be led by Professor Jenny Gore, Professor Max Smith, Dr Kathryn Holmes and a team of researchers.

Access and Student Experience

The Literacy App project will deliver a free, comprehensive Literacy App designed to improve the literacy of undergraduate students, particularly those from low SES backgrounds. This project has been awarded a $131,249 HEPP National Priority Pool grant and is a world first contribution to knowledge about the development and impact of a mobile learning (m-learning) tool, with a focus on their ability to assist the students to develop their own literacy skills, both independently and in student learning support and teaching contexts. This project taps into the current and fast evolving climate of interactive app use by offering a fun and engaging way to improve literacy. 

The joint project leaders are Dr Shamus Smith and Dr Erica Southgate and will be supported by a team of researchers and engineers.

It is predicted that one of the reasons that low SES students suffer from poor mental health during their time at university is that they are less well integrated into university social life. The aim of the project is to provide a firm evidence base for drawing conclusions between students' SES, social integration, and mental health and satisfaction at university. Building on already published research by Project Leader, Dr Mark Rubin, the project will use a longitudinal research design across 2015 and will include an institution-wide survey that samples students from a diverse range of degree programs and that measures a broad range of mental health issues.

The research results will inform policies and approaches that promote the social inclusion of two key minority groups: low SES students and students with mental health problems. The research will also inform policies and approaches that reduce mental health problems among university students, increase their satisfaction and university, and reduce their attrition rates. 

The research project was successful in attaining $67,327 in funding through the 2014 HEPP National Priority Pool grants and will be led by Dr Mark Rubin and co-investigator Associate Professor Ross Wilkinson.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) university students traditionally find mathematics to be a roadblock to success in their degrees, and data worldwide suggests that this is much more prevalent amongst students from low SES backgrounds.

This project has received HEPP National Priority Pool grant of $187,186 to create, evaluate and disseminate set of a research informed sequence of innovative videos designed to tackle specific areas of knowledge and skills as well as common misunderstandings, to help STEM university students from low SES backgrounds succeed in mathematics. This is a multi-disciplinary initiative, drawing on the experiences and expertise of teaching academics in Engineering, Education, Mathematics and Science who recognise the challenges faced by students from low SES backgrounds and the possibilities for improving their experiences to help them succeed through mathematics. 

The project leader is Dr Elena Prieto-Rodriguez and the team of researchers include Lilijana Brankovic, Rachel Buchanan, Kathryn Holmes, Peter Howley, Bill McBride, Erica Southgate and Judy-Anne Osborn.

This project aims to raise aspirations and build capacity in students from low SES backgrounds who are currently under-represented in Creative and Performing Arts programs at the University of Newcastle. BACAPA was awarded a $63,811 HEPP National Priority Pool Project grant and will develop creative projects in a collaborative model between staff and students from the School of Creative Arts at the University of Newcastle and Performing Arts staff at Hunter Valley and Central Coast schools.

The project will centre on the creation of new creative work, a process that will enrich the school students' experience and forge personal links to the School of Creative Arts at the University of Newcastle. Students will develop skills in creative thinking, project design and realisation in the areas of music, visual arts and/or performance through an innovative process that rests on three pillars of collaboration, empowerment and technology to deliver positive outcomes for children from low SES backgrounds. 

The project will be led by Senior Lecturer, Helen English and supported by Dr Jocelyn McKinnon and a team of project staff.

This project will build an evidence base for the development of resources and strategies to help undergraduate students manage and curate their digital footprints. Digital footprint management is important for ensuring that all students succeed in career development and a lack of skill in digital footprint management can have serious social and professional consequences for students.

Research suggests that students who come to university from higher SES backgrounds have more ICT skills and knowledge than students who come from low SES backgrounds. This project will focus on gaining a greater understanding on what undergraduate students from low SES and non-traditional backgrounds know and do in relation to their digital footprints and to develop evidence based engaging strategies for the digital footprint management for all students regardless of family background.

The Equity and Digital Footprint was awarded a $107,287 HEPP National Priority Pool grant and is led by Dr Rachel Buchanan, Dr Jill Scevak and Dr Erica Southgate.

Governance Policy and Practice

The Critical Interventions Framework II (CIF II) project, awarded a $205,262 HEPP National Priority Pool grant, will extend the Critical Interventions Framework for Advancing Equity in Australian Higher Education (Naylor, Baik & James, 2013). The project team brings significant national and international experience in equity, educational disadvantage and educational policy, including direct international engagement in widening participation agendas. Led by the University of Newcastle, the project team also combines senior academics from University of Melbourne and La Trobe University.

The resulting CIF II will provide a comprehensive, adaptable framework for use by all Australian higher education providers to guide their implementation of equity interventions.

The project is led by University of Newcastle senior academics Dr Anna Bennett, Professor Jenny Gore, Professor Geoff Whitty, Professor Max Smith and Belinda Munn.

Other

The Aspirations Longitudinal Study is a significant four-year research project that is the first of its kind to seek a comprehensive insight into the factors that shape the career and educational aspirations of students in the middle years of schooling. 

The project has attracted more than $1m in funding from the Australian Research Council and the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC). The research team, led by Professor Jenny Gore, will track children from 85 state schools to investigate how their aspirations develop or change over time.

This project received almost $70,000 in 2014 by the National Centre for Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University. Over the next year it will examine the impact schools have on a student's decision and aspirations about going to university. 

Carried out by the Faculty of Education and Arts, the project will investigate subject selection, teachers and teaching as well as specific educational and career interventions. Interviews with current Year 11 students, their parents and teachers will be carried out along with interviews of former students from the same schools now at university. The case studies produced will be used to validate and form narratives of the impact of school, taking into account socio-economic status (SES), Aboriginality, rurality and gender. 

This study draws from a 2012-2015 ARC Linkage study of students' educational and career aspirations from Year 3 to Year 12. The Choosing University study focuses on low SES and other marginalised students within the 2014 Aspirations Study Year 11 cohort of approximately 1200 students. At this point in schooling planning for the transition to tertiary education typically solidifies. 

The lead Chief Investigator is Professor Jenny Gore along with Chief Investigators Dr Kath HolmesProfessor Max Smith, and Associate Investigators Andrew Lyell and Hywel Ellis.

The University of Newcastle has secured almost $300,000 in funding as part of a $2.2 million collaborative grant from the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) for research into teacher enrichment up until 2016.

Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education (IMSTE) aims to develop new interdisciplinary methods to improve mathematics and science training at university for potential teachers. The project hopes to enhance the quality of teaching in these areas and consequently increase student understanding and aspirations around science and mathematics.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with University of Queensland (lead), James Cook University, the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong, the University of Newcastle (UoN) and the University of Tasmania.

The key project contact is Maureen Townley Jones whose team of UoN researchers include Dr Kathryn Holmes, Dr Peter HowleyDr Judy-Anne Osborn and Dr Elena Prieto.