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Can expanding and broadening participation in Australian universities really advance social equity

Gibbs, G.F. (2011) Can expanding and broadening participation in Australian universities really advance social equity. In: AARE 2011, 27 November - 1 December 2011, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart



It is now widely agreed that a “well-educated citizenry is the foundation of social equity, cohesion and successful participation in the global knowledge economy’ as a result universities across the world are being mandated to increase in size and diversity (International Association of Universities, 2008, p. 1). Individual governments are setting goals for both increased access to higher education, so as to continue the transformation of university systems from mass to universal participation. Australian universities share this trajectory of change.

This paper investigates the history of social equity in Australian higher education policy focussing particularly on the origins and expressions of social equity and neo-liberal reform agendas. It then draws on this history to elucidate the current Australian policy ensemble consisting of the Review of Australian Higher Education (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent, & Scales, 2008) and Transforming Australia's Higher Education System (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009). Through investigating the relative positioning of social equity and neo-liberal reform within this policy ensemble it reveals that social equity has been ‘rearticulated’ to accommodate the framework of neo-liberalism within which it is both fundamental and subordinate. The paper then draws on empirical data from the USA the UK and Australia to consider the potential impact of this rearticulation on the achievement of social equity for students from low SES backgrounds through the policy ensemble. Finally, the paper two elements, one a characteristic of the policy ensemble and one a characteristic of the university system, and suggests how these might be used to improve social equity within the confines a neo-liberal framework.

Publication Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: Centre for University Teaching and Learning
Conference Website:
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