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Enabling education: Mitigating risk on the path to opportunity
The University Preparation Program (UPP) is an enabling course at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) which facilitates entry into higher education for students who otherwise would not meet entrance criteria. Like many of its counterparts in universities across Australia, it is an open access (no entrance requirements), fee-free preparatory course designed for students who occupy a position of disadvantage (Clarke, Bull, Neil & Birney, 2002). This position of disadvantage stems from membership to one of two groups. Group one is comprised of students under-represented in the Australian higher education landscape, and includes students from low socio-economic backgrounds, students from rural or remote areas and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders (James, 2008 Bradley, Nugent & Scales, 2008). Group two is comprised of students identified as less likely to succeed (as measured by retention and grade point average) according to certain background markers such as low entrance scores or prior levels of education achievement, refugee or non-English speaking background (Rienks & Taylor, 2009). Often students belong to more than one group and/or have more than one marker of disadvantage. Fostering participation in higher education from these groups (that is, widening participation) is seen as both an important tool for promoting social equality (Bradley et al., 2008) and as part of a general lifting of educational attainment to allow Australia to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy (Bradley et al. 2008; Gale & Tanter 2011).
The dominant discourse on higher education in Australia and indeed world-wide is one of opportunity. Statistics tell us that having a university education improves your health, job choice, salary and the outcomes for your children and that it is a key factor in breaking cycles of poverty and encouraging movement between social classes (Ross & Mirowsky, 1999; Bynner, Dolton, Feinstein, Makepeace, Malmberg & Woods, 2002; Goldthrope, 2007). A considerable body of research has been produced over the past 20-30 years focusing on who is not participating in higher education and why, framing this under representation as undesirable (see for example, James, 2001, 2008; Coates & Kraus, 2005; Cardak & Ryan, 2009; Australian Government, 2010; Gale & Tranter, 2011). Initiatives and programs which encourage participation have flourished - enabling education programs being but one example.
Whilst few would challenge the notion that education is desirable, a blanket acceptance of it as ‘opportunity’ does not necessarily tell the whole story. The reality is that whilst success and retention rates for those students who successfully transition from enabling programs to undergraduate study are comparable with students entering via all other entry methods (Clark et al., 2000), attrition rates of 40-50% within enabling programs themselves are more than twice as high as general undergraduate attrition rates (Hodges, Bedford, Hartley, Murray, O’Rourke & Schofield 2013). Some of this may be called ‘positive attrition’, that is attrition that comes about by a student finding a better alternative (for example, an alternative course or a job) (Hodges et al., 2013). However, the high attrition rate also suggests that entering higher education via this route is not always a successful experience.
To date research into enabling programs and their students in Australia is limited and many aspects of the enabling students’ ‘story’ remain untold. There are indications from related research in other countries or with other groups of students, however, which suggest the negotiation of risk could be a factor in understanding this story, and could provide some explanation for phenomena such as attrition in enabling courses and the continued pattern of under-representation in higher education, as well as informing aspects of program design and delivery risk (Archer & Hutchings, 2000; Reay, 2003; Brine & Waller, 2004; Lehmann, 2004; Abbott-Chapman 2011).
Publication titleProceedings of the Foundation and Bridging Association of New Zealand Conference 2014
PublisherFoundation and Bridging Association of New Zealand
Place of publicationNew Zealand
Event titleFoundation and Bridging Association of New Zealand Conference 2014
Event VenueTauranga, New Zealand
Date of Event (Start Date)2014-12-04
Date of Event (End Date)2014-12-05