Forum tackles impact of equity scholarships

Group discussion at the forum, picture by Katia Sanfilippo

Group discussion at the forum, picture by Katia Sanfilippo

In summary: 
  • Equity scholarships are more than "tools for incentivising enrolment" according to multi-university research presented at a forum at UTS this week
  • The forum was told receiving a scholarship or financial support can increase students' wellbeing and sense of belonging, reduce stress and in some cases improve academic achievement

The role of equity scholarships and how they affect students' participation and success in higher education was addressed at a forum at UTS this week.

Funded by the Commonwealth Government's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program’s National Priorities Pool, the forum investigated how scholarships can best make a difference to low-SES (LSES) students in need using research findings from UTS, Deakin University, the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and Queensland University of Technology.

Student recipients of equity scholarships, researchers and administrators of scholarships from metropolitan and regional universities came together with careers advisers and counsellors from TAFE and schools as well as representatives from the University Admissions Centre for the collaborative discussion.

Dr Teena Clerke and Catherine Raffaele presented data gathered from surveys with more than 300 UTS LSES student recipients of equity scholarships and financial assistance, and interviews with UTS staff and students as well as external representatives from a south western Sydney high school, Universities Admissions Centre and TAFE. Framing the research design were questions around access to information about scholarships, application processes, and their impact on students' capacity to transition to and success in university study. 

Their key findings indicate that students' decision-making about attending university is multi-factored, and that equity scholarships and financial assistance significantly contribute to LSES students' capacity to support themselves while studying. The provision of educational, counselling and financial planning services significantly enhances their study experience and success.

Moreover, the impact of receiving a scholarship or financial support moves beyond alleviating financial pressures to positively increasing students' wellbeing and sense of belonging, reduced stress, and in some cases, improved academic achievement.

Presented by Brian Hurd, Macquarie University's findings added weight to arguments that financial support schemes need to be seen as more than tools for incentivising enrolment, and instead as key institutional or sectoral mechanisms for encouraging and supporting the successful participation of disadvantaged students in higher education. 

The Deakin group's research report was launched at the forum by Sue Trinidad and co-presented by Dr Nadine Zacharia and Juliana Ryan. The group's findings are that equity scholarships are effective in retaining students across the three participating universities, demographic groups and scholarship products, and that although success rates were variable, scholarships reduced stress and boosted recipients' morale. 

Well-known political cartoonist Reg Lynch creatively captured comments from themed buzz groups, with award-winning journalist Monica Attard facilitating a panel discussion tackling issues that emerged.

Forum outcomes will be incorporated into a UTS research report, with recommendations provided to the Commonwealth Government and distributed throughout the higher education sector.