By Sarah O’Shea 

As our higher education (HE) sector advances equity and outreach imperatives (with HE institutions topping world rankings on reducing inequalities), it is timely to reflect how our student populations have never before been so highly differentiated nor intersected by such a range of demographic, material and life stage characteristics.  As a sector we have definitely moved beyond singular categories or definitions of learners such as ‘traditional’ students (i.e. white, middle-class, privileged learners) versus ‘non-traditional’ ones (i.e. everyone else). Instead, our students are at all stages of life with complex and rich lived experiences to contribute to learning agendas.

However, the sector seems unable (or unwilling) to fully embrace this diversity and reconsider equity not as an ‘add-on’ to mainstream (or accepted) forms of teaching / learning / support but instead, as a fundamental principle underpinning everything we do for our student populations. Consider university marketing: images of those young, carefree (predominantly white) students that don billboards and websites actually achieve little more than alienating our actual student populations, contributing to feelings of not belonging or being an ‘imposter’… so what does the sector need now?

Consistent and thoughtful work that ensures that equity and access is positioned centrally within the goals and activities of the entire institution, rather than considered as periphery or additional to ‘core business’. Whether it be designing a new teaching program, curriculum initiative or internship opportunity: content, delivery and structure should always be underpinned by recognition (and celebration) of this diversity; maximising the extensive work and life experiences brought by our student cohorts rather than implicitly (or unintentionally) assuming youth, ignorance or dependency. Interested in hearing more: Check out the latest strategic equity planning document: available here

Sarah O’Shea 

University of Wollongong

2016 National Teaching Fellow

ALTF 2019 Legacy Report here


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