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You are reading: Measuring and improving the effectiveness and responsiveness of Deakin University’s inclusive support programs

Report of Year 2 of a project funded through the Deakin University Participation and Partnerships Program 2012

Written by Karen Starr and Jackie Ingleby


This report documents the findings of the 2012 component of a three-year research project funded through the Deakin University Participation and Partnerships Program (DUPPP) entitled Measuring and improving the effectiveness and responsiveness of Deakin University’s inclusive support programs (2011 – 2013). The DUPPP focuses on students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The 2012 component of the project entailed a university-wide survey to students in their first year at Deakin from low socio-economic backgrounds. The survey was followed up with interviews with respondents who volunteered to participate further in the research.

This report chronicles the factors that enable and constrain – enhance or detract – from the success, fulfilment and participation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds at Deakin University. These factors can be summarised as follows:

Enabling factors
Students reported that good teaching and teachers; attendance at lectures and tutorials; IT infrastructure; the library resources and library staff; as well as a range of support services enabled them to succeed and be fulfilled in their courses at Deakin University. These factors were augmented by assistance and advice from peers; supportive and encouraging families, partners, friends and employers and sources of financial assistance including scholarships and financial support from parents, employment or partners.
Constraining factors
Students from low socio-economic backgrounds cited a number of factors that inhibited their studies and fulfilment at university. These mainly included a lack of money and constant struggles with making ends meet; the need to spend longer hours in paid part-time work than was desirable in order to finance their studies; workload stresses (some of which were exacerbated by employment commitments); feelings of isolation and loneliness; coping with the transition from secondary school to tertiary studies – including managing different pedagogical styles of teaching, online learning, time-management and self-directed learning accountabilities.

There were instances where students’ responses were contradictory, with some respondents finding the same factors either enabling or constraining. For example, while most students cited their academic teachers and resources such as IT infrastructure and library facilities as being positive enabling factors, others cited problems they had or were experiencing with these very same factors. These are reported here, although respondents citing these as constraining factors were fewer than was the case for the positive comments.

Respondents in this research provided a large number of ideas about the services, practices, policies and learning cultures at Deakin University that were positive and should be maintained or enhanced, as well as ideas for improvement and suggestions for new initiatives.

A most concerning finding was that despite an enormous range of support services and programs that are offered through the university as a whole, through faculties or divisions or through the Deakin University Students’ Association – very few students were aware of them. Despite the positive commentary received from those who used the services, clearly these provisions are insufficiently advertised, promoted and publicised.

The students’ experiences and perceptions cited in this report demonstrate the resilience and determination of this cohort to succeed in academia, while portraying personal difficulties and obstacles they have to overcome or contend with in order to pursue their university goals. The report provides a basis upon which continued equity reforms can be mounted to ensure that Deakin University lives up to and builds upon its reputation as an inclusive and equitable university for all students.

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The lead author, Professor Karen Starr, PhD, is the Foundation Chair, School Development and Leadership at Deakin University. Karen Starr was a school principal for fifteen years in South Australia and Victoria and was Chief Writer of South Australia’s Curriculum, Standards and Accountability Framework (SACSA). In 2004 she won the Victorian and Australian Telstra Business Women’s Awards for the not-for-profit sector. She is a Fellow and Advanced Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors; Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders, Fellow of the Australian College of Educators and a Fellow of the International Economics Development and Research Centre, Hong Kong.