Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Higher education and diverse communities A research-based perspective (#31)

Ruth Tregale 1 , Sonal Singh 1
  1. Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Despite an overall expansion of the Australian higher education sector during the last decade, and greater access to further education among some traditionally under-represented groups, students from low socio-economic status backgrounds continue to be under represented in Australian tertiary institutions. Macquarie University's LEAP (Learning, Education, Aspiration, Participation) programs are aimed at raising aspirations, creating possibilities and supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to successfully participate in higher education. This study examines the impact of four LEAP programs using a mixed method approach of surveys with 450 high school students, 120 teachers and 60 parents.  Rooted in theories of cognitive development and social psychology, the authors present a framework for understanding how LEAP programs are critical for identity construction for students and its subsequent role in fostering cognitive growth. The findings indicate that participating in a LEAP program is positively linked to engagement as well as positive student self-reported outcomes. The authors offer their findings as evidence of the continuing importance of widening participation efforts by universities, not only as a means of increasing access to higher education for greater numbers of students, but also as a means of fostering students' academic and social growth.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This study addresses the conference theme: Navigating uncertainty and complexity.

To encourage life-long learning and equip our graduates for future, students must have the values, skills, and knowledge to become complex thinkers and ethical decision-makers. This relies on how well education systems prepare students for life and work and this opportunity should be available to all students regardless of background. Widening Participation Unit at Macquarie University is already making a significant difference to the future of many young Australians by providing an invaluable pathway to access education; empowering students’ and fostering within them confidence in their own capacities and high aspirations and creates an inclusive university. Key findings highlight students reported becoming more aware of their culture and identity, have a greater interest in pursuing higher education, and are academically more prepared for school and further study. Relationships and building connections with key stakeholders play a crucial role in engaging communities through university outreach programs.