The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

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You are reading: 2017 Equity Fellows

The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education is pleased to announce Equity Fellowships for 2017 have been awarded to Associate Professor James Smith from Charles Darwin University, Ms Louise Pollard from The University of Western Australia and Mr Matt Brett from La Trobe University.

The NCSEHE’s three Equity Fellows will undertake strategic, high-impact, high‐profile leadership projects targeted, sector-wide, at improving the access, participation and success in higher education of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Fellows will each spend a period of time working in and with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, facilitating mutually beneficial engagement between the Department and the higher education sector.

Associate Professor James Smith’s Fellowship aims to investigate ways of strengthening the evaluation of Indigenous higher education programmes and policies in Australia that have been designed to enhance Indigenous pathways and transitions into higher education. A/Prof Smith is currently the Program Manager of the HEPPP-funded, Whole of Community Engagement initiative, which recently won an Australian Rural Education Award.

“Indigenous students are significantly under-represented within the Australian higher education context. Universities need to carefully tailor attraction and retention strategies to meet the needs of this priority group,” A/Prof Smith said.

“The Australian Government has provided funding to universities to help them provide access, outreach and enabling initiatives that support Indigenous students. But, little is known about the quality of the evaluation of these programs, or how this evaluation evidence is being used to inform policy reforms.”

A/Prof Smith explained that the Productivity Commission and the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People had emphasised the need to increase the quality and utility of evaluation in Indigenous higher education contexts.

“Working with key Indigenous and policy stakeholders, my Fellowship project will result in the development of national principles about evaluation in Indigenous higher education contexts that can be used by equity practitioners across Australia,“ A/Prof Smith said.

Ms Louise Pollard will explore the ways through which students from remote locations are supported, by policy and practice, to overcome barriers impeding their success at university. Since 2009, Ms Pollard has worked closely with schools and students in regional and remote areas to widen higher education participation in her role as Manager of the multi award-winning Aspire UWA program.

“Every time a remote student withdraws from university study and returns home, their attrition has a significant impact on their local community, negatively affecting perceptions of the suitability of higher education for people from regional and remote Australia.”

In addition to her work with Aspire UWA, Ms Pollard has been an active member of the EPHEA National Committee and the NCSEHE’s Advisory Board, enabling her to advocate for equity practitioners, and underscoring her commitment to student equity.

“The Equity Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity and one that I am really looking forward to. So much so, that within my Fellowship budget, I have provided for the inclusion of two Junior Fellows who will be mentored and travel with me to Canada on a study tour to compare strategies to improve remote students’ participation and success in higher education,” Ms Pollard said.

“In working together, the Junior Fellows and I will be positioned well to more widely disseminate our learnings and make a greater impact on the sector.”

Mr Matt Brett will generate an Equity Performance and Accountability Framework based on research into the prominence of equity within performance and accountability systems in higher education. The framework will enable policy makers and higher education leaders to better integrate equity within higher education performance and accountability systems. His current role as Senior Manager of Higher Education Policy at La Trobe University provides him with a deep  knowledge of higher education policy, strategy and management and a wide professional network, that will help achieve his Fellowship’s objectives.

“The terms ‘performance’ and ‘accountability’ will be broadly defined and include financing, quality assurance and reputation signals,” Mr Brett said.

“The absence of an integrated approach that embeds equity within performance and accountability systems is a contributing factor to under-representation of equity groups.”

“If we are serious about addressing inequity in higher education, we need systemic action.”

Mr Brett’s Framework will be stress tested and refined through broad consultation, application to policy reform processes, and integration within university planning frameworks.

“Australia has a proud tradition of advancing equity in higher education, but outcomes can fall short of our aspirations. I’m looking forward to making a positive difference for the sector.”

The NCSEHE’s Equity Fellows, who are funded via a grant provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, have direct influence and impact on equity in the higher education sector. The Fellows identify equity issues that affect the Australian higher education system, provide leadership in promoting, enhancing and developing good practice in improving access, participation and success in higher education, and participate in a collaborative arrangement for the ongoing exchange of knowledge between the sector and government.

NCSEHE Director, Professor Sue Trinidad, said having the opportunity to work closely with the Centre’s inaugural three Equity Fellows – Dr Nadine Zacharias, Dr Cathy Stone and Dr Erica Southgate – had resulted in the development of an evidence-based approach in support of equity practice, guidance for institutions grappling with a changing educational landscape, and an enhanced connection between the higher education sector and the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

“Higher education is the key for many people from disadvantaged backgrounds achieving their full potential as this experience is transformative to individuals, families and communities,” Professor Trinidad said.

“The 2016 Equity Fellows have worked hard to positively impact equity in Australia and they are to be commended for their efforts.”

“I congratulate our latest cohort of Equity Fellows on the attainment of their Fellowships, commend their commitment to this important area of work, and look forward to the contributions their research will make to better outcomes for equity students in Australia.”

The 2017 Equity Fellowship final reports were released during 2018: