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You are reading: Investigating the relevance of mental health for the current equity groups framework: An analysis of multi-agency linked-administrative data

Written by Tomasz Zając1, Francisco Perales1, Ning Xiang1, Wojtek Tomaszewski1, Stephen R. Zubrick2

There are currently six recognised equity groups in the Australian higher education system: people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, people from Non-English Speaking Background, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, people from regional and remote areas, people with disability and women in non-traditional areas of study. Critics of the Australian higher education equity framework have underscored the existence of other potential sources of educational disadvantage that currently lack official recognition.

Given the increasing prevalence of mental health issues among young people, some scholars and equity stakeholders have recommended refining or complementing the existing disability equity group by explicitly incorporating measures of poor mental health. A recent change to the definitions of higher education data elements might be seen as a step towards recognising poor mental health as a condition that can lead to educational disadvantage. Specifically, the new Tertiary Collection of Student Information (TCSI) system, which replaced HEIMS in 2021, includes mental health and neurological conditions among disabilities, impairments and long-term medical conditions that can impact studies. The present study provides empirical evidence that can help assess the validity of claims to formally incorporate student mental health within the current Australian framework for equity in higher education. Our analyses leverage a unique, customised Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) dataset obtained through a partnership with the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) to investigate how pre-existing poor mental health overlaps with the equity groups and their independent and compounding effects on disadvantage at the higher education participation stage. The studied equity groups include students with disability. However, as our study uses data from the 2012-16 period, all of the data pertain to the time before the recent change to the disability indicator in the HEIMS/TCSI data collections, which occurred in 2021. Therefore, the disability indicator in the data used here does not explicitly capture students with poor mental health.

Read the full report: Investigating the relevance of mental health for the current equity groups framework: An analysis of multi-agency linked-administrative data


1The University of Queensland
2The University of Western Australia