Engaging Heterogeneity: Tertiary literacy in new times

Year: 2002

Author: Hirst, Elizabeth

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The nature of tertiary education has changed significantly in the current economic and global conditions. Within the constraints of the current funding model for tertiary education, key changes facing regional universities are, on the one hand the imperative to recruit greater numbers of students to ensure viability and on the other the increasing diversity of student' populations coupled with the lowering of tertiary entrance requirements. Particular disciplines in the university for example, Education and Nursing, with their large enrolments, are vulnerable to these changes. This "massification" of higher education (Commonwealth Department of Education Science and Training, 2002, p. 15) and the associated increasing diversity have significant implications for tertiary education. In particular, students seem to be struggling with the demands of tertiary literacy (Reid, 1998) with commentators claiming that literacy standards are in decline (e.g., Illing, 2002). The solution has generally been to offer support through study skill units. These units tend to provide generic support, in effect commodifying tertiary literacy, homogenising it into a set of generic skills, which discounts the diversity of situated literacy practices within tertiary institutions. There is also a tendency to discount the diverse literacy practices that students bring to these institutions: "the sociolinguistic consequences of this heterogeneity are not adequately recognised either in university policies or in classroom practices" (Reid, 1998, p. viii). Against the background of increasing diversity, any successful literacy program needs to address two key issues, the situated literacy practices of different disciplinary areas and the kinds of literacy practices that students bring with them (Education Queensland, 2000). In this paper I document the evolution of situated programs that attempt to productively engage with these issues.