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Equalizing and Widening Access to Higher Education During a Pandemic: Lessons Learned from a Multi-University Perspective


The COVID-19 pandemic caused a rapid and unprecedented shift of widening participation and outreach activities to online and remote delivery. The impact of this went beyond practitioners and the university sector; positive and negative implications are felt by stakeholders and the broader community. This shift online is discussed through the lens of a multi-university perspective, using four case studies from university outreach programs in one Australian state. The article provides a holistic view of the lessons learned and discoveries made, informing future program design and delivery. These programs include primary and secondary students, teachers, parents, guardians and carers, and work within a range of low socioeconomic and regional, rural and remote contexts. We argue that the fundamentally necessary shift online created a profound legacy and bears potential to increase accessibility (via diversity and scale), but, simultaneously, that care must be applied if substituting face-to-face engagement with that online. While this article primarily focuses on issues of value to practitioners, it also discusses important implications for academics, support staff, and university executive regarding the access and participation of underrepresented cohorts during times of mass change.

Published: 2021-11-02
Pages:58 to 72
How to Cite
Dodd, E., Singh, S., Micsko, J., Austin, K., Morison, C., & Upton, S. (2021). Equalizing and Widening Access to Higher Education During a Pandemic: Lessons Learned from a Multi-University Perspective. Student Success, 12(3), 58-72.

Author Biographies

University of Technology Sydney
Australia Australia

Emlyn has worked across multiple universities as a widening participation and student equity practitioner and researcher over the past decade, most recently the University of Technology Sydney and Western Sydney University. He is also Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at Macquarie University and has received competitive international and national grants and fellowships from the Australian Academy of the Humanities, British School at Rome, and Macquarie University. His research has been published in high-ranking peer-reviewed international journals as well as via public media outlets like The Conversation, interviews on ABC national radio and international podcasts.

Australia Australia

Sonal Singh is the Manager Student Equity at University of Technology Sydney at the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion. Sonal research is focussed on equity in education outcomes, culturally inclusive research methodologies and student equity practice in Australia.

Western Sydney University
Australia Australia

Mr Jim Micsko is an experienced practitioner in the field of Widening Participation and has successfully developed and implemented multiple programs which have led to increasing numbers of disadvantaged school students accessing Higher Education. Mr Micsko has extensive knowledge of the primary and high school educational sectors, Higher Education Participation Partnerships Program (HEPPP), and widening participation programs including membership of collaborative cross-institutional funding grant projects. Mr Micsko currently oversees successful and well-established programs working in over 130 western Sydney primary and high schools delivering aspiration-building programs to over 10,000 current school students.

University of Wollongong
Australia Australia

Kylie Austin has over twelve years experience in Australian higher education. During this time, Kylie has led institution wide initiatives aimed to increase the representation and participation of underrepresented cohorts at university. She is also the current President for Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia, providing sector-wide advocacy and professional development to student and staff equity practitioners. Kylie is currently completing her PhD, with research interests in partnerships and equity, and has led national research projects to investigate the experiences of underrepresented cohorts with higher education.

Macquarie University
Australia Australia

Stuart has worked in curriculum and pathways for many years, also contributing to equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. He is bringing that experience to lead the MQ widening participation team in designing and delivering programs to support equity students’ journeys through higher education.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795