The work that universities do to widen the participation of people from equity backgrounds involves activities in the pre-tertiary domain with both school-age and adult people – to encourage interest in tertiary study and offer practical assistance with access; and activities with enrolled tertiary students – to encourage a sense of belonging and improve success and retention.
This work requires the combined and coordinated efforts of a number of institutions and organisational units, because:
- The root problems are related to poverty, racism and disadvantage, the effects of which are seen in every aspect of the lives of those affected, and which are complex and not easily overcome. Small scale, narrowly-focused, or short-term efforts are unlikely to break the cycle of disadvantage or the associated pattern of educational engagement.
- In the pre-tertiary domain, those affected by disadvantage, and who may be uninterested in tertiary study, need a scaffolded age-appropriate series of interactions which gradually build awareness, aspiration and confidence. Large numbers of school-age and adult learners have this need – it is the sheer scale of this task, not just its complexity, which suggests that partnership-based operations are needed.
- In the pre-tertiary domain, university is not a strong presence, nor a great influencer, in the lives of the people it wants to reach. These school students and adults have no formal relationship with universities, which are thus poorly- placed to drive change or transform opinions. Universities are reliant on the major influencers of family, community, and school, and must partner with them for impact.
- With enrolled tertiary students, the university can directly exercise influence. Ensuring that students from equity backgrounds can achieve comparable rates of success, retention and completion is a major focus. Ideally these students should experience a seamless, targeted set of supports and inclusive experiences inside and outside the curriculum, that build confidence and a sense of belonging. Internal partnerships between academic and non-academic organisational units across the university are required for this to happen.