Improving participation in Higher Education for young people from low socio-economic backgrounds: Changing attitudes towards university

Year: 2005

Author: Harris, Joanne, Sachs, Judyth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Current Federal Government policy in higher education espouses a renewed emphasis on equity. As such, it encourages university-initiated projects aimed at improving the access of students from groups identified as disadvantaged. While significant gains have been made in the participation of some targeted groups, marked inequities in transition to higher education persist, with young people from higher socio-economic backgrounds participating in higher education at approximately twice the rate of those from low SES backgrounds.

While the causes of these inequities are multiple and complex, one culprit that is increasingly named is that of the attitudes of young people and their families towards higher education. Research has found appreciable social stratification in the opinions of secondary students about the relevance and attainability of a university education.

The literature suggests that university-school linkages based on early intervention and long-term relationships have the potential to alter young people's perceptions of university. This paper describes one such intervention scheme, Australian Catholic University's ACULink program. Using a predominantly qualitative approach, it evaluates the extent to which this project affects young people's perceptions of and aspirations for university.