A new study, led by Dr Ian Li from The University of Western Australia, has confirmed that equity students are generally well-supported in their university study, although challenges remain, in particular for students with disability and from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The UWA researchers analysed data from the national University Experience Survey which measures five facets of the student experience including engagement, teaching quality, resources, student support and skills development. This was supplemented with demographic and enrolment data from the Department of Education and Training’s Higher Education Information Management System, and data on students’ Weighted Average Marks from 13 participating universities.
Dr Li said that over the past decade, participation in higher education by Australians from disadvantaged groups has been increasing. However, their degree completion rates still lag behind those of their fellow students from more privileged backgrounds.
“It is of interest to explore the differences in student experience at university for disadvantaged groups, and how student experience contributes to academic outcomes, including persistence,” Dr Li said.
Dr David Carroll, who co-authored the study, said students from non-English speaking backgrounds or who have a disability were found to have lower levels of student satisfaction across most dimensions.
“Furthermore, students from most of the equity groups, particularly students who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Straits Islander, who have disabilities or who were from rural or remote locations, were more likely to consider leaving university early than non-equity students.” Dr Carroll said.
“Additionally, financial and health reasons were identified as strong drivers of equity students’ consideration of leaving university.”
Academic performance and disposition towards study were identified as important influences on university dropout, with students in most equity groups performing less well academically, on average, than their non-equity counterparts.
The study was funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the need to identify interrelated factors contributing to university dropout and implementation of the appropriate policy changes.
“This valuable study addresses the discrepancies in completion rates between equity groups and their non-equity counterparts across the Australian university student population,” Professor Trinidad said.
“A broader understanding of the relationship between student satisfaction, risk of dropout and academic performance will help identify areas where additional support can be provided to redress the balance in higher education completion.”
Dr Li said it should also be recognised that there could be a need for support for equity students from beyond the higher education sector, particularly in the areas of financial support and health, in order to level the odds for them.
The report, Access to higher education: Factors Influencing University Student Satisfaction, Dropout and Academic Performance: An Australian Higher Education Equity Perspective’ is available on the NCSEHE website.