Written by Joanna Hughes

Australian universities have seen an increase in access to higher education in recent years. However, insiders say there’s more work to be done. To that end, they are calling for policy changes to support disadvantaged students and help universities meet equity group targets. Here’s a closer look at the situation, as reported by The Courier.

"A Worldwide Movement"

“A worldwide movement of working-class academics” insists that leveling the playing field for students from non-traditional backgrounds will require both cultural and policy changes. University lecturer and researcher Verity Archer, who grew up in Tasmania’s small town of Burnie, said, “Residential college was an especially bad place for someone from a working-class background.”

And even though Archer was surrounded by diversity, the issue persisted. “The details of my story might be different but the feelings of cultural misalignment are quite common among people from working-class backgrounds attending university,” she said.

Beyond Tuition

Citing high rents driving students from disadvantaged jobs to work while attending school, Archer further proposes that while a lot has changed since her university days more than a decade ago, “structural inequalities have largely increased.” Her assertions are in line with findings by Group of Eight Australia which indicate that the real reason disadvantaged students stay away from university degrees are upfront living costs, not tuition costs.

Joanna Humphries, a project manager at advocacy group Raising Expectations, speaks of the low expectations for educational attainment for the disadvantaged. This is backed by statistics indicating that while students from metropolitan and regional and remote areas are just as likely to receive university offers, students in the latter groups are far less likely to enroll.

Which begs the question: Why not? “Even if they have an aspiration to go onto university, that will be put on hold until they have financial stability and accommodation,” Humphries told The Courier.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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