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

Written by Dr Felicia Jaremus1, Dr Kristina Sincock1, Dr Sally Patfield1, Dr Elena Prieto1, Dr Leanne Fray1, Laureate Professor Jennifer Gore1

This project, Aspirations, equity and higher education course choice: The path travelled, examined which students realise their childhood aspirations, for what higher education courses, and why. ‘Aspirations’ have become a cornerstone of efforts to widen the participation of underrepresented groups in Australian higher education, with considerable practical and political attention given to ‘raising’ aspirations over recent decades. However, with very little longitudinal research on how students actually navigate their post-school futures, much of this activity has proceeded with limited understanding of the factors that enable or constrain the fulfilment of students’ aspirations post-school.

Focusing on targeted equity groups and first-in-family (FiF) students, this project addressed the following questions:

  1. How do early aspirations (at ages 10-18) relate to post-school and higher education course choices?
  2. What equity insights can participants from the Aspirations studies, provide with regards to the path they travelled in making their higher education choices?
  3. How might recent environmental, health and economic crises shape institutional efforts to ensure more equitable participation across courses?

To answer these questions, we drew on an existing data set (n = 12,068 surveys and n = 360 focus groups) documenting the post-school aspirations of students enrolled in Years 3-12 between 2012 and 2017 across a wide range of New South Wales (NSW) government schools. Additional data were collected in 2021 via online surveys (n = 52) and interviews (n = 21) with original participants who are now one to five years post-school. The additional data were central to the analysis, with the existing data primarily used as context for data collected in 2021. The expanded survey data enabled an overview of the types of educational and occupational pathways that participants followed and factors that influenced the pathways taken. Interview data were used to provide seven detailed case studies of the different university-related pathways identified in the survey data.

Read the full report: Aspirations, equity and higher education course choice: The path travelled

1The University of Newcastle