Collaboration, competition and the production of student equity policy in higher education: Examining the practices of the Queensland widening participation working Group

Year: 2012

Author: Peacock, David, Sellar, Sam, Lingard, Bob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


PURPOSE - Current national education reforms in the Australian schooling and higher education sectors have prioritised efforts to reduce educational disadvantage. As part of this broader agenda, the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP) has reinvigorated student equity and outreach programs across Australian universities. Designed to encourage and enable the participation of a wider body of students in higher education, the policy has allocated approximately $500 million, over four years, to boost the participation rate of low socioeconomic status students to 20% by 2020.  Yet the HEPPP policy, following the Bradley Review, situates equity policy within a set of competitive student recruitment relations, raising practice based tensions amongst universities as they strive to meet their performance targets for low-SES student participation. This paper seeks to analyse the discursive construction of the HEPPP policy text, and follow its contemporary negotiation and appropriation through the textually-mediated practices of a collection of university employed, equity practitioners and managers: the Queensland Widening Participation Group (QLD WP).  METHOD - Employing Dorothy Smith's Institutional Ethnographical methodology, broadly informed by both Marxist and social-constructionist theory, observational, interview and documentary data collected from the QLD WP Group will be analysed to map how people's local work practices are articulated to the accomplishment of textually mediated, extra-local institutional and ruling relations.  Theorising policy as the practice of power, and recognising a hierarchical field of universities within QLD, this paper maps the practices of the QLD WP group of equity practitioners as they appropriate a series of federal policy relations for higher education student equity and school engagement practices.   RESULTS - The work practices of QLD WP equity managers and practitioners reveal their social coordination by the federal HEPPP policy settings but also actively reconfigure the shape of these power relations in light of local low-SES student needs. QLD WP provides an interesting and innovative example of university- school intervention and engagement, and controls for duplication of resources and competitive practices. CONCLUSION - QLD WP demonstrates a definite yet circumscribed capacity for equity policy production.   Their model of cooperative outreach and engagement amongst universities for low-SES student participation stands in structural tension, however, with institutionally specific HEPPP policy and mission compact indicators which measure for individualized performance.