Background and methodology
The Commonwealth Government currently invests around 300 million dollars annually in direct equity student support. In addition, equity students—like non-equity students—also benefit from billions of dollars in other forms of public support, including student base funding, deferred income-contingent student loans and student income assistance.
The research sought to investigate at a system level how student equity goals are described, set and advanced, and who is accountable for them. It aimed to identify weaknesses in accountability for equity performance in Australian higher education and was motivated by an assumption that equity goals are more readily achieved if aligned with effective accountability practices.
The report was based on four sets of investigations: theoretical perspectives on equity and accountability; analysis of secondary data from policy and institutional reference points such as legislation, regulation, higher education statistics, strategic plans and annual reports; interviews with leaders from across the sector; and surveys of managers from across the sector.
Findings and outputs
The report identified a number of issues and challenges for accountability in equity in higher education:
- Student equity is framed at system, group, local and individual levels but accountability for student equity is not.
- There is inconsistent alignment between equity group goals and their resourcing, measurement and evaluation.
- There is consensus around legitimacy of some groups, but opinions differ as to whether other groups warrant equity group status.
- Equity is shaped by many institutions and different time frame considerations outside of higher education. • Public investment in financing student equity is not well understood.
- Student equity is not a sufficiently prominent feature of the higher education regulatory environment.
The report highlighted four strategic priorities for change:
- Refine equity goals
- Improve information management
- Embed student equity goals across the higher education system
- Analyse, report and communicate outcomes
In looking at systemic changes to the way in which equity in higher education can be advanced, the report does not focus on isolated recommendations, but instead it proposes a framework through which the four strategic priorities for change can generate continuous system-wide reforms.
The report produced two significant recommendations:
- The Australian Government adopts an Operational Framework for Student Equity that integrates system, national, local and individual dimensions of student equity across Australian higher education.
- Processes for developing pathways for each of the four strategic priorities for change be developed and implemented, with reference to each other, and in consultation with all stakeholders.