Access does not automatically equate to success: Diverse learners and the capability to participate in higher education

  • Date: 9 June 2022
  • Time: 10:00 am
  • Cost: Free
  • Venue: Online
Book via Eventbrite
Sarah O'Shea sitting outside, wearing sunglasses and a navy blue dress or top

Join ARU's Cluster for Educational Research on Identities and Inequalities (CERII) for a talk from Prof Sarah O'Shea exploring how universities become truly equitable by considering the lived experiences of first-generation students.

Over the last few decades, many countries have seen significant growth in the diversity and numbers of students attending university. This increasing volume of participants and apparent greater educational accessibility is largely perceived in positive ways, considered to evidence opportunity for social mobility and an assumed equitable capacity to achieve academic success.

This presentation seeks to interrogate the ways in which attending university is experienced by learners from more disadvantaged or under-represented groups. Drawing on interviews and surveys with near completing undergraduate students all of whom were first in their family to attend university, the focus will be on the ways in which the students themselves considered the interplay of access and exclusion in their engagement with higher education, particularly the ways in which academic success and persistence was measured and articulated.

Amartya Sen’s capability approach was used to ‘open up’ student narratives and reflections to consider the relative freedoms to enact success in this environment. In unpacking the nature of persistence and understandings of ‘academic success’, this session will explore how a truly equitable university landscape is characterised by more than admission and participation rates but also, must consider how the actual lived experiences of individual learners can subtlety inform and underpin engagement.

Professor Sarah O’Shea is Director of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), funded by the Australian Federal Government and located at Curtin University. This research, policy and practice Centre is dedicated to improving higher education participation and success for under-represented learners.

Sarah’s research focuses on the access and participation of students from identified equity groups. Institutional and nationally funded projects ($A4m) advance understanding of how under-represented student cohorts enact success within university, navigate transition into and through this environment, manage competing identities and negotiate aspirations for self and others.

Sarah has published extensively in the field of higher education, as well as being recognised as an Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow (ALTF), a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), and a Churchill Fellow (CF).

  • Date: 9 June 2022
  • Time: 10:00 am
  • Cost: Free
  • Venue: Online
Book via Eventbrite