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RUN says uncapped system boosts equity in HE

The Australian     |    24 March 2014

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With the review of the demand driven system due to report, regional universities have defended the uncapped higher education system from claims it is doing little to boost social mobility.
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Go8 Equity scalesIn a policy note published last month, the Group of Eight said demand-driven higher education had done more for the privileged than the battlers. It said that while the proportion of low socio-economic status students had increased by around one percentage point between 2008 and 2012, the majority of the growth had come from people of medium or high SES.

The Go8 said just 12,000 of an additional 60,000 higher education students had come from disadvantaged backgrounds, suggesting those from the bottom 25 per cent of the wealth spectrum had claimed only 20 per cent of the extra places. And regional students’ share of undergraduate enrolments had dropped marginally.

But Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins challenged the claims, saying low SES students had comprised almost one-third of commencing domestic bachelor enrolments at the network’s institutions in 2012.

She said that while the Go8’s data showed that the medium and high SES groups had grown most strongly in raw numbers, the rate of growth had been highest among their low SES counterparts.

Perkins claims more recent data on applications and offers confirme the trend. Between 2009 and 2013, offers to low SES students applying through tertiary admissions centres had grown by 22% compared with 19% for medium SES applicants and 14% for high SES applicants.

Last year’s 2.2% increase in offers to low SES students was double the rise for medium SES and almost six times the growth for high SES, she said.

University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Jan Thomas said the notion that wealthier students had benefited more from the demand-driven system was “hardly surprising”.

(It) reflects a trend seen each time the Australian higher education sector has undergone a period of significant expansion. That advantaged students are better positioned to make the most of emerging opportunities than their relatively disadvantaged peers is hardly rocket science. The penny has still not dropped for many people in the sector that simply ‘opening the doors’ is not sufficient as a basis for broadening university participation.

She said more is needed, including school outreach, “just-in-time” support services, multiple access pathways, personalised learning and early identification of students at risk of failing.

Treating everyone the same simply serves to perpetuate advantage. Social justice requires individual needs to be met, which necessarily require resources to be directed unequally but equitably.

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