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You are reading: NCSEHE 2020/21 Research Grants Program — Successful projects announced

It gives us great pleasure to announce the successful projects to be funded under the 2020/21 NCSEHE Research Grants Program!

The objective of the NCSEHE is to build the evidence base through research informing policy and practice. One of the ways the Centre has achieved this is through the NCSEHE Research Grants Program which has funded 62 projects over five rounds from 2014–20, with a total research expenditure of A$2,480,512.

The sixth funding round (2020-2021) received 103 applications, representing an almost 50 per cent increase from 2019. A record 17 projects from 12 different lead organisations, including 85 investigators, were awarded funding to the total value of A$540,000.

The NCSEHE identifies key research priorities for each funding round; many of this year’s projects will explore equity issues with reference to the COVID-19 context.


2020/21 NCSEHE Research Grants Program projects

Equity implications of non-ATAR pathways: Participation, academic outcomes and work-readiness

Lead institution: University of Western Australia

Researchers: Ian Li, David Carroll and Denise Jackson

Project abstract: Much of the research and policy attention on improving higher education access,  participation and outcomes for equity group students has focused on disadvantaged secondary school leavers and university entry pathways through an Australia Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). This study will address fundamental and important policy issues, using existing national and institutionally linked datasets, by examining the proportions and trends of equity students who enter Australian higher education through various non-ATAR pathways. It will compare a range of outcomes for equity students with their more advantaged counterparts, focusing on differences by entry (ATAR versus non-ATAR) pathways across different fields of education.

Understanding wellbeing challenges for university students during crisis disruption

Lead institution: Edith Cowan University

Researchers: Lynette Vernon, Kathryn Modecki and Kylie Austin

Project abstract: Australian university students have encountered unique challenges in the wake of crises such as bushfires and COVID-19. Globally pre-2020, one in five university students experienced poor wellbeing. In Australia, youth aged 15–24 have the highest prevalence of psychological distress. Disruption from crises further affects students’ wellbeing, underscoring the need to understand students’ challenges and concerns. This study will inform the development of courses of action to better support university students in crises, especially those students already facing disadvantage or emerging disadvantage, and will provide recommendations for higher education institutions to address the wellbeing needs and challenges posed by crises disruption.

Supporting student parents to succeed in Australian higher education

Lead institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Lisa Andrewartha, Andrea Simpson, Lizzie Knight and Hannah Beattie

Project abstract: Juggling parenting and study can create considerable time pressures and financial hardship. Barriers to success include limited institutional support and inflexible study arrangements. Further research is pressing as the COVID-19 crisis has created additional challenges for student parents (for the purpose of this project, a student parent is defined as a university student who cares for at least one child who is under 18 years of age), including job losses and increased caring responsibilities. This project will establish the first major evidential base for domestic student parents in Australian higher education. Original evidence will be collected via a national survey, in collaboration with Victoria University and the Council of Single Mothers and their Children. Findings will support policymakers to improve the access, success and outcomes of student parents.

COVID-19 online learning landscapes and CALDMR students: Opportunities and challenges

Lead institution: University of New South Wales

Researchers: Sally Baker, Lisa Hartley, Loshini Naidoo, Rachel Burke, Tebeje Molla, Clemence Due, Joel Anderson, Teresa De Fazio, Carolina Morison, William Mude and Ravinder Sidhu

Project abstract: This study explores the effects of remote learning environments induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the capacity of universities to offer equitable teaching and learning services to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Refugee and/or Migrant (CALDMR) populations. Building on existing research undertaken by team members and working as an interdisciplinary collective of educators and equity practitioners under the Refugee Education Special Interest Group (RESIG), we propose a critical/strengths-based mixed-methods approach to develop a holistic picture of the challenges and opportunities for CALDMR students and universities within a changing teaching and learning landscape.

Investigating the relevance of mental health for the current equity groups framework using multi-agency linked-administrative data

Lead institution: University of Queensland

Researchers: Tomasz Zajac, Wojtek Tomaszewski and Francisco Perales

Project abstract: Critics of the current equity framework in the Australian higher education system have highlighted that it focuses on just a handful of statuses and omits other potentially disadvantaging characteristics. Scholars have suggested that people with mental health conditions are recognised as an additional equity group. The project investigates the relevance of mental health for the current equity groups framework using unique Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) data. The project will investigate the joint impact of mental health and membership in established equity groups on first-year retention. The project will inform future policies on student mental health.

University responses to enhancing equity in the post-COVID landscape

Lead institution: University of New South Wales

Researchers: Mary Teague, Sally Baker, Katy Head, Sonal Singh, Christine Johnston, Carolina Morison and Jim Micsko

Project abstract: This study explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its consequences on the Australian higher education sector, with regard to growing domestic student enrolments, particularly those of equity cohorts. Taking a mixed-methods approach blending a broad national view and focusing in-depth on four case study universities, this study will examine how universities responded to the potential increase in uptake of Commonwealth Supported Places, with a specific focus on whether institutions shifted their admissions requirements, pathways into undergraduate studies, and strategies to increase access for low socioeconomic status (SES) students into higher education.

Building the evidence to improve completion rates for Indigenous students

Lead institution: University of Queensland

Researchers: Bronwyn Fredericks, Tracey Bunda, Katelyn Barney, Kirsten Bonds, Anne Martin and Jacinta Elston

Project abstract: Completion rates for Indigenous students remain significantly lower than non-Indigenous students. Group of 8 (Go8) universities tend to have higher Indigenous student completions than non-Go8 universities. However, research-based evidence of these universities as ‘success models’ is limited. The proposed mixed-methods project focuses on exploring the multifaceted dimensions associated with successful completions by Indigenous students at four Go8 universities. The aim is to improve the evidence base for ‘what works’ in strategies to enable Indigenous student completions. The results will assist universities to implement stronger programs to support Indigenous students to complete their degrees.

Care leavers in Australian higher education: Success and graduate outcomes

Lead institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Andrew Harvey, Jacqueline Z. Wilson, Federation University, Naomi Tootell and Beni Cakitaki

Project abstract: International evidence suggests that care leavers (those who have left foster, kinship or residential care) often record poorer completion rates and graduate outcomes than other university students. Similar risks may exist within Australia, but to date there has been no equivalent longitudinal analysis of completions and outcomes. This project will provide the first such analysis by examining care leaver data collected across two Australian universities since 2016 and conducting interviews with graduates. Findings will inform university approaches to improving graduate outcomes for care leavers and other marginalised groups, in a climate of pandemic, rising unemployment, and precarity.

Pathways or goat tracks — Non-ATAR university entrance

Lead institution: RMIT University

Researchers: Megan O’Connell, Ciannon Cazaly and Aarushi Singhania

Project abstract: This project is aimed at filling a gap in understanding of young people’s awareness of alternative pathways to university, and how knowledge translates to action. The research will collect data from a variety of sources to ascertain who knows about alternative pathways and how they gain this knowledge, by equity type and compared to non-equity cohorts, and if this knowledge makes a difference to decision making. This project will inform current and future policy work to better support young people to transition from school to right forms of further education for them.

Re-imagining exams: How do assessment adjustments impact on inclusion?

Lead institution: Deakin University

Researchers: Joanna Tai, Rola Ajjawi, Margaret Bearman, Joanne Dargusch, Mary Dracup and Lois Harris

Project abstract: High-stakes, timed assessments can be problematic for students with disabilities (SWD). Though assessment adjustments are enshrined in legislation, equitable outcomes are not assured, and evidence for their efficacy is unclear. SWD membership of additional equity groups may contribute to disadvantage which cannot be addressed through assessment adjustments. This project shifts the focus to understanding the broader context of, and barriers and enablers to, inclusive assessment design. It will use student voice data and workshops with staff and students to research inclusive assessment development. This will inform an inclusive assessment framework and underpin recommendations for policy and practice.

Undermatching and underrepresentation: Improving student equity across fields of education

Lead institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Beni Cakitaki, Michael Luckman and Andrew Harvey

Project abstract: Despite a wealth of access and participation research on equity groups in higher education, comparatively little work has addressed stratification at course level, and its underlying causes. Stratification restricts underrepresented students’ access to the most selective courses and fields of education, thereby reducing systemic equity. This project will analyse equity access and participation rates within different fields of education, and investigate the course choices of disadvantaged students. In particular, we will explore the extent to which underrepresentation of disadvantaged students across different fields of education could be a result of an ‘undermatching’ between their academic results and course preferences.

Institutional approaches and student perspectives on COVID-19 equity student support initiatives

Lead institution: University of Sydney

Researchers: Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Pauline Ross, Susanna Scarparo, Jessica Vanderlelie, Tricia McLaughlin, Ian Zucker, Amanda Able, Phil Levy, Sarah Jane Gregory, Deborah West, Lisa Bricknell, Janelle Wheat, Abelardo Pardo, Florence Gabriel and Kasia Banas

Project abstract: Disasters disproportionately impact marginalised groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption in higher education. Universities have rapidly responded, drastically altering students’ experiences. This grant seeks to understand how 10 Australian universities have endeavoured to support equity students to retain access to learning through COVID-19. The team will analyse strategies undertaken by institutions and equity students’ perspectives on those strategies. They will compare data across three types of universities (research intensive, innovative, and regional/remote) to identify in what ways institutions with significantly different cohorts can learn from each other to better support equity students in times of (future) crisis.

Towards principles for inclusive analytics in Australian higher education

Lead institution: La Trobe University

Researchers: Bret Stephenson, Andrew Harvey, Damminda Alahakoon and Qing Huang

Project abstract: Data-driven machine learning (ML) tools and services now quietly power countless automated decision making, and predictive processes, across university business areas and throughout the student life cycle. Moreover, the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis has notably increased institutional interest in the adoption of ML ‘business solutions’. While ML can be responsibly deployed to advance student equity interests, if adopted uncritically, it can also amplify social inequalities and historical injustice, often by stealth. To protect student equity interests in the ML era, this research offers an interdisciplinary framework of guiding normative principles for the equitable use of data analytics in Australian universities.

Supporting careers of LGBTQIA+ students in Australian universities

Lead institution: Flinders University

Researchers: Zhou Jiang, Ying Wang, Damien W. Riggs and Susan Mate

Project abstract: Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and more (LGBTQIA+) face tremendous challenges in preparing careers through higher education. However, there is very limited knowledge on how they are being supported to achieve better career outcomes and what unique expectations they hold for university support systems. Investigating these areas through Australia-wide interviews and surveys, this project aims to identify best practices for universities to support the careers of LGBTQIA+ students generally and during COVID-19 specifically. Findings will inform higher education policy and practice to maximise the success of LGBTQIA+ students.

Building bridges: Increasing WIL opportunities in Gippsland East’s small businesses

Lead institution: Gippsland East Higher Education Study Hub

Researchers: Andrew O’Loughlin and Damian Morgan

Project abstract: This project will consider how the work integrated learning (WIL) experience can be improved for regionally-based students living within Gippsland East — to make them employment ready and to find a framework that increases participation of small businesses. Three populations will be studied: students; businesses that offer WIL/community experiences, and businesses that do not currently participate in WIL/community programmes. By surveying local businesses the study will: (a) identify the barriers, types of resistance and possible opportunities to broaden the pool of experiences for students; and (b) develop a model for better regional engagement and support WIL and community-based programs.

Aspirations, equity and higher education course choice: The path travelled

Lead institution: University of Newcastle

Researchers: Felicia Jaremus, Elena Prieto, Leanne Fray, Jenny Gore and Sally Patfield

Project abstract: Taking account of targeted equity groups and First-in-Family status, this project investigates which students realise their childhood aspirations, for what higher education courses, and why. We augment existing datasets involving students in Years 3–12 (n ~8000) with follow-up surveys and interviews with the same students, who are now up to five-years post-school. We examine course choices over time, focusing on the experiences of those from equity groups while paying special attention to recent national disasters such as bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis aims to highlight critical factors for institutions to address in supporting equitable access to university courses.

Interrogating relationships between student support initiatives and Indigenous student progression

Lead institution: Murdoch University

Researchers: Bep Uink, Braden Hill, Rebecca Bennett, Chanelle van den Berg, Tracey Taraia and Sian Bennett

Project abstract: Indigenous students are enrolling in university degrees at historically high rates; however, they are not necessarily completing their qualifications, signalling an enrolment-completion gap. To interrogate this issue, we will collate pre-existing data sets, from two Western Australian universities, to determine relationships between institutional support and Indigenous student progression. Data from targeted Indigenous, and broader university, student support initiatives will be analysed, including the impact of an innovative multi-disciplinary enabling subject for Indigenous students, focused on the hidden curriculum. Additionally, we consider the impact of transitioning support fully online on Indigenous student progression, through comparison of data collected pre- and post-COVID-19.

We would like to thank all of the applicants for this funding round, as well as the NCSEHE Advisory Committee. Updates and the final reports will be published to the NCSEHE website.