Widening participation agendas, language and literacies development

Year: 2012

Author: Aitchison, Claire, Catterall, Janice

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In Australia, attention to student academic literacies has often been determined by national and global policy changes, institutional imperatives, and the immediacy of responding to assessment-based literacy needs.  New drivers including the Bradley report (2008), the Good Practice Principles for English Language  Proficiency for International Students (DEEWR, 2009) (soon to become 'standards'), the Knight Report (2011) and the AUQA and TEQSA auditing regimes, are having significant and long ranging impacts on the way that English language proficiency and language support is understood, measured and provided in universities. These pressures come to bear on university staff, students and administrators who juggle the need to grow student numbers against issues of excessive staff workloads, equity and 'quality'. Bourdieu (1984, 1986) is often evoked in discussions of student experience in a massified higher education system. In particular his notions of capital and habitus are used to construct accounts of student failure and success at university. Using these notions within an academic literacies frame (Lea and Street, 1998), this position paper explores how universities are struggling to meet the challenges of new policy imperatives that push literacy concerns to the forefront.  We review the literature to examine evolving understandings of English language proficiency and implications for the teaching and learning of academic literacies across the university, including pre-entry language testing and language development models.  We argue that many policies and institutional responses continue to position students as the problem, framing language proficiency in deficit terms, rather than promoting the kinds of structural changes necessary for a 21st century massified university sector. Our paper contributes to a small but growing mapping and theorisation of changing literacy practices in Australia.