The Australian student equity program and institutional change: paradigm shift or business as usual?

Universities Students Educational finance Student equity Australia

The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) has provided an opportunity for universities to develop bespoke equity programs which respond to their institutional profile and strategic priorities, but many important outcomes of HEPPP funded work are not currently recognised by decision-makers. This Australian-first comprehensive analysis of HEPPP has informed recommendations for systemic change in policy and practice in student equity, and set benchmarks for a national evaluation framework reflecting broader measures of success.

The vision of an Australian higher education system that actively widened participation and whose graduates reflected more closely the diversity of the Australian population was articulated in the Bradley Review of Higher Education and adopted as a fundamental aspiration of significant higher education reform implemented from 2010.

The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) was designed to encourage the sector to support the Government’s aspiration, and has provided significant funding to 37 public universities to implement equity strategies and programs enabling people from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds to access and succeed in higher education. To date, there has been no national investigation of the design and implementation of institutional HEPPP programs in different universities and how this contributed to student outcomes at institutional and sector levels.

This Fellowship sought to understand how HEPPP had been implemented by universities and whether the sector had acted on the Government’s aspiration.

The project took a collaborative approach, developing questions in consultation with an advisory group. It used a qualitative methodology including the analysis of HEPPP annual progress reports between 2010 and 2015, three institutional case studies, and an engagement strategy with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training and key stakeholders across the sector.

The Fellowship produced a set of diagnostic tools, an interpretive model and an Equity Initiatives Map, to enable analyses of HEPPP program design and implementation in the context of institutional equity strategy and performance. The three case studies demonstrated the application of the tools to identify universities’ strategic approaches to HEPPP implementation and the success factors, outcomes, and challenges associated with these.


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