Equity and Postgraduate Coursework (PGCW) Programs: The State of Play, and Opportunities for Change

Year: 2016

Author: Phelan, Liam, Baker, Sally, Harris, Keith, Lumb, Matt, McBain, Bonnie, Munn, Belinda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Policies, attendant discourses and research focussed on understanding and working towards equity in higher education have traditionally centred on students’ entry and success in undergraduate programs (see James et al., 2004; James et al., 2008; Gale & Parker, 2013). In contrast, questions of equity and postgraduate coursework (PGCW) receive little attention in higher education institutional frameworks or policies, and there has been scant interest by researchers (see Gale & Parker, 2013). In this paper we report on research located at the intersection between two empirical foci: equity (in terms of discourse, policy and praxis), and postgraduate coursework (PGCW) education. Given the limited attention to equity and postgraduate programs internationally and nationally (Wakeling & Kyriacou, 2010; Whitty & Mullan, 2013), we take a three-pronged approach with this research. We begin by examining the international context through a comprehensive literature review, offering a thematic account of existing work on equity in the context of postgraduate study. Secondly, through document analysis, we explore public policy frameworks national over 27 years (1988-2015), drawing on institutional policy documents of Australian universities, peak body statements and other grey literature, with reference to the six equity groups. Lastly, at the institutional level, we explore students’ and lecturers’ experiences, perspectives, and imagined alternative approaches to equity in the context of PGCW study at a research-intensive regional university. For this part of the study we use online questionnaires as part of a mixed methods approach to gathering and analysing quantitative and qualitative data. Working from this analysis, this paper makes two key contributions: firstly, it identifies national policy change opportunities; and secondly it proposes a research agenda to better understand the PGCW-equity nexus. ReferencesGale, T., & Parker, S. (2013). Widening participation in Australian higher education: Report to the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) and the Office of Fair Access (OFFA), England. Leicester, UK: CFE Research.James, R.; Baldwin, G.; Coates, H.; Krause, K.L.; & McInnis, C. (2004). Analysis of Equity Groups in Higher Education 1991-2002. Centre for the Study of Higher Education: The University of Melbourne.James, R.; Anderson, M.; Bexley, E.; Devlin, M.; Garnett, R.; Marginson, S.; & Maxwell, L. (2008). Participation and equity: review of the participation in higher education of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and Indigenous people. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne. Wakeling, P., & Kyriacou, C. (2010). Widening participation from undergraduate to postgraduate research degrees. Swindon, UK: NCCPE and ESRC.Whitty, G. and Mullan, J. (2013). 'Postgraduate education: overlooked and forgotten?' In: Callender, C and Scott, P, eds. Browne and beyond: modernizing English higher education. Bedford Way papers (42). IOE Press, London, pp. 173-194.