Equity in postgraduate education in Australia: widening participation or widening the gap?

Higher education reform Graduate outcomes Student equity Higher education Australia

This report provides direction for the Australian higher education sector to improve postgraduate outcomes for equity group students, as higher degrees become an expectation of employment advancement.

The Commonwealth provides funding to universities to improve the access, participation, retention, and success of identified equity groups. Referred to as the widening participation agenda, the explicit goal is to increase levels of university participation by students from these underrepresented social groups to levels which reflect their representation in the broader Australian population.

This research was concerned with how well Australian universities have performed against the widening participation agenda in relation to the postgraduate cohort in the period 2006–16. The equity groups covered in the report are: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students; low socioeconomic status (SES) students; students with disability; students from non-English speaking backgrounds; students from regional areas; and students from remote areas.

Progress toward parity targets was compared across the stages of the degree life cycle—access (commencing enrolment), participation (continuing enrolment) and completion (graduation)—for undergraduate, postgraduate coursework and postgraduate research student cohorts. These outcomes were also considered by university group to identify the key trends in access to, participation in, and completion of postgraduate study by students from different equity groups and how these trends differed by university group and type of higher degree.

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