The implementation of the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP) since 2010 has fundamentally changed the scale, scope and approach to student equity work in Australian universities. Institutions have contributed to, and drawn on, a rapidly growing evidence base on the nature of the challenge and what works in widening participation for students from low SES backgrounds. Participation rates have increased substantially and there are significantly more students from low SES backgrounds in the system now than ever before. However, these gains have been uneven across the sector and are difficult to attribute to institutional HEPPP programs.

The question is how we sustain and build on the gains made in a time of policy review and reform.  The aspiration for the Student Equity network is that discussions will lead to:

  • Improved sharing of existing and emerging evidence and strategies of what works to increase participation by students from equity groups
  • More strategic and evidence-informed approaches to institutional student equity programs and practice
  • Coordinated action to influence public policy
  • Collaborations to conduct cross-institutional research, present innovations and disseminate findings from research and practice.

The Student Equity network would be of interest to outreach and equity practitioners who are managing or evaluating institutional programs as well as researchers and institutional analysts with an interest and expertise in student equity programs and initiatives. The network takes a broad approach to the student lifecycle, spanning students’ journeys from first considering university as their path to realising (desired) career and life outcomes post-graduation while focussing on students who belong to one or intersecting equity groups.


Session structure

The networking session is an opportunity to share and consolidate existing evidence of successful student equity strategies with a view to inform future practice and policy. In 2017, the focus will be on financial support to equity students and measures of program success that go beyond the existing indicators of access, participation, retention, success and completion rates.

This discussion will be complemented by a national picture of how Australian universities have responded to HEPPP. The group will be encouraged to explore how the strengths of current approaches can be leveraged and weaknesses addressed in the reform process necessitated by any changes proposed to the program’s structure and/or reductions in the funding envelope. Finally, the network offers a platform to consider lobbying efforts to ensure that a national and significant equity program remains post-2017.



Dr Nadine Zacharias
National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education

Nadine is an equity practitioner with research expertise in the fields of equity policy and program management, inclusive teaching and learning in higher education and gender equity in employment. In 2017, she is joining the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) as a Senior Research Fellow. Nadine was an inaugural Equity Fellow sponsored by the NCSEHE to undertake a strategic student equity research project of national significance and was Director, Equity and Diversity at Deakin University from 2010-2016.

Nadine’s Fellowship project investigated the sector’s response to HEPPP and found that the national equity program provided an opportunity for universities to develop bespoke equity programs and that any assessment of their ‘success’ should consider what kind of program works best for a specific university in its context. She is currently involved in collaborative research projects which focus on student resilience in higher education as well as the impact of outreach work on school leaver applications to university in urban and regional low SES communities in Queensland. Nadine led an influential cross-institutional research project on the effectiveness of equity scholarships funded by the NCSEHE with QUT and the University of Sydney as research partners (https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/effective-scholarships-equity-students/). She was the Chair of the 2015 Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (EPHEA) conference in Geelong and EPHEA President in 2012/13.



Bennett, A., Naylor, R., Mellor, K., Brett, M., Gore, J., Harvey, A., Munn, B., James, R., Smith, M., and Whitty, G. (forthcoming). The Critical Interventions Framework Part 2: Equity Initiatives in Australian Higher Education: A Review of Evidence of Impact. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Burke, P.J. (2013). The Right to Higher Education: Beyond widening participation. New York: Routledge.

Harvey, A., Burnheim, C. & Brett, M. (Ed.) (2016). Student Equity in Australian Higher Education: Twenty-five years of A Fair Chance for All. Melbourne: Springer.

Naylor, R., Baik, C. & James, R. (2013). Developing a critical interventions framework for advancing equity in Australian higher education. Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne.