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The Importance of Highly Engaged School-University Partnerships in Widening Participation Outreach


In Australia, there has been a sustained investment in widening participation activities by the federal government through the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP) and a sustained effort by universities and their partner schools to create high-quality widening participation programs. However, there is limited longitudinal evidence on if and how these widening participation activities influence the application rates to university by school leavers from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. This article draws on a large mixed-methods study which aimed to investigate differences in university application rates between students from low SES backgrounds in urban versus rural, regional and remote (RRR) schools in Queensland. The research found that widening participation programs had a positive and statistically significant influence on application rates to university in highly engaged schools. We propose the concept of a virtuous circle of sustained widening participation activity to explain the positive results in highly engaged schools.

Published: 2020-03-03
Pages:35 to 45
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How to Cite
Zacharias, N., & Mitchell, G. (2020). The Importance of Highly Engaged School-University Partnerships in Widening Participation Outreach. Student Success, 11(1), 35-45.

Author Biographies

Swinburne University of Technology
Australia Australia

Associate Professor Nadine Zacharias is Director, Student Engagement at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research expertise and interests relate to equity policy and program management as well as inclusive teaching and learning in higher education. As an inaugural Equity Fellow sponsored by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) in 2016, Nadine undertook the first national study of institutional practice in student equity across the Australian higher education sector which inspired strategic change in numerous universities. Nadine has led major research projects related to access and participation in higher education by students from under-represented groups, including a multi-stakeholder study of widening participation through school-university partnerships in Queensland.

Queensland Department of Education
Australia Australia

Geoffrey Mitchell is the project manager for Queensland’s Widening Tertiary Participation Consortium, a ten-year collaboration involving public universities in Queensland and the state education department.  Geoffrey’s role has included managing inter-university collaboration and undertaking research and evaluation related to the impact of widening participation projects on student interest in tertiary study.  He has contributed to a number of HEPPP National Priority Pool projects and National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education research projects.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795