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.

You are reading: A scholarship of social inclusion in higher education: why we need it and what it should look like

Written by Dr Hannah Forsyth, Australian Catholic University, and Annette Cairnduff, University of Sydney

Even though we’re only a few kilometres away from Sydney University, our students had never been there and it was all very foreign to them. (Teacher, Inner Sydney, 2010)

Universities in Australia have recently increased their efforts to widen participation (Gale et al., 2011). This has been a priority for us at the University of Sydney – as elsewhere. We are conscious that we have further to go than some universities whose histories have been more inclusive than ours. We therefore seek to develop the habit of taking a scholarly approach to social inclusion, incorporating into our strategy, processes of discovery, reflection and sharing our findings and experiences. University social inclusion strategies are generally founded on good evidence – there are in fact quite a few things that we know:

These students, they… need all the encouragement and belief – faith even – that they can accomplish what they want. (Teacher, Western Sydney, 2012)

We know that certain groups of people in Australia are less likely than others to go to university – these people are also among the most financially disadvantaged and dis-enfranchised members of the community (James, 2008):

I think for some of the [students], failure is too big a part of their lives. You want them to succeed in some way. Every little success along the way is a help. (Teacher, South-West Sydney, 2012)

We know that supporting those groups into higher education is worthwhile, for we have firm evidence that a university education has a positive impact on health, wealth and relationships for individuals and their communities (Dickson & Harmon, 2011):

I wasn’t really interested in going to uni, but now that we are going there very often I am starting to think about it more and what I am going to study. (Primary School Student, 2010)

We know that when students from disadvantaged backgrounds come to university they do just as well as anyone else (Devlin, Kift, Nelson, Smith, & McKay, 2012). We have also learned a great deal about how to support them, especially in their first year (Kift, 2009):

I didn’t really have anyone with experience of uni who could help me with the transition. (First-Year Student, 2013)

Continue reading…

Hannah Forsyth & Annette Cairnduff (2015) A scholarship of social inclusion in higher education: why we need it and what it should look like, Higher Education Research & Development, 34:1, 219-222, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2014.975902.
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