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You are reading: New research — University responses to enhancing equity in the post-COVID-19 landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant and far-reaching consequences for the higher education sector, and has particularly impacted students from equity cohorts. Factors such as the loss of income from international students and the Job Ready Graduates Package (JRGP) had significant implications in terms of responding to student equity.

Mary Teague from the University of New South Wales and colleagues found, given the widespread and deep impacts of these changes, it was timely to explore how universities responded to these challenges in terms of access and admissions, and participation and support for equity cohorts.

Key findings from the NCSEHE-funded research included:

  • Alternative, non-ATAR, pathways to university proliferated in the advent of COVID-19, in many cases as a means to mitigate some of the impact on school leavers who experienced significant disruption to their education in 2020.
  • Universities responded to the needs of equity student cohorts via financial support (scholarships, bursaries), outreach to enrolled university students (phone calls, technology), digital resource loans, and wellbeing engagement to support students coping with increased stress.
  • Universities introduced new flexibilities to accommodate the needs of students.
  • Participants noted an increase of external partnerships, sector collaborations, relationships with student organisations and/or guilds. Other partnerships including those with governments, and with schools and teachers were strengthened.
  • Participants suggested future advocacy for expanded admissions pathways beyond the reliance on ATAR as a predictor of student success.

The team have made five recommendations for the higher education sector:

  1. Consistency of advocacy for student equity (not equality) is essential.
  2. Set key performance indicators regarding the access, participation and success of equity student cohorts.
  3. Distribute leadership within higher education institutions to allow for transparent and collaborative processes for the decision making regarding student equity admission and transition support.
  4. Adopt an intersectional approach to student equity admission and transition support that recognises how multiple forms of disadvantage cause compounded barriers and respond through the creation of a range of pathways and supports for engagement.
  5. Develop institutional COVID-19 response plans for equity cohorts that explicitly respond to key access, participation and success needs of equity cohorts during COVID-19, including potential utilisation of reallocated HEPPP funding across the student life cycle.

Read the full report, University responses to enhancing equity in the post-COVID landscape


This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.