Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Can Online Study Improve Equity?

In "Equity off course: Mapping equity access: across courses and institutions" (2022), Cakitaki, Luckman, & Harvey, provide an overview of how Australian university are doing providing education for all, or not. Something curiously missing from their report was how online learning might help, or hinder this.

Many of the report's findings (reproduced below) relate to regional and remote students, and their participation at Group of Eight (Go8) universities. All the Go8 are located in capital cities, out of commuting distance for regional and remote students. Low SES students, those with family or cultural commitments, would also find on-campus attendance difficult. These students therefore have the choice of a regional non-Go8 university or distance education. Pre-pandemic, the Go8 universities provided online limited online learning options. 

Some of the findings seem self evident, such as low SES students being underrepresented in creative arts courses. Having a low SES background myself, it would never occur to me to enroll in creative arts, as that would not be likely to result in a secure well paid job.

Similarly, it would be an entirely rational choice for a low SES student to enroll in a regional university, or one of the city ones which places an emphasis on teaching, not a Go8 research intensive university.

Findings from the study included:

  • Relative to their overall representation in the sample, low SES, regional and remote, and Indigenous students were underrepresented at the selective Group of Eight (Go8) universities.
  • Low SES students and NESB students were underrepresented in creative arts and communications courses.
  • High ATAR students from all groups (equity and non-equity) were more likely to commence at Group of Eight (Go8) universities than other universities, yet just over half of high achieving low SES students commenced at a Go8 university compared to more than two thirds of high achieving medium and high SES students.
  • High achieving regional and remote students were much less likely to commence at Go8 universities than metropolitan students.
  • Indigenous students with high ATARs were much less likely to enrol at Go8 universities than non-Indigenous students.

Recommendations from the study included:

  • That the DESE report equity participation and achievement data for the official “Fair Chance for All” equity categories, both by field of education and by the 21 QILT study areas.
  • That, where the Department of Health has set equity targets for Indigenous and regional and remote participation in medical training and allied health courses, they also include targets for low SES students.
  • That the DESE reform the existing Access and Participation Plans by adopting the UK system of making institutions set equity targets and evaluate progress towards those targets. Such an approach could be connected to the Performance Based Funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme or the awarding of the Indigenous, Regional and Low-SES Attainment Fund.
  • That the DESE commissions a review into the representation of women in male dominated study areas, with the object of setting participation targets in the terms of reference.
  • That individual institutions monitor and track equity participation rates by course and discipline as part of their standard evaluation and monitoring processes.
  • That institutions set themselves targets to increase equity participation in their most selective courses.
  • That institutions employ an achievement focus as part of their school outreach work.
  • That institution approaches to outreach are cognisant of career stereotypes and expectation differences by class, race, gender and other categories. Effort is required to ensure that all students are receiving the information, advice, and guidance required to make an informed choice when applying for a course.
  • That equity researchers conduct further research on the course choices and motivations of high achieving equity students.

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