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Fair Connection to Professional Careers

by Associate Professor Erica Southgate

Australian higher education participation data indicates that people from equity groups are underrepresented in university degrees associated with high-status professions, particularly at elite universities. Poverty, familial and community norms and expectations, inequitable access to high quality and adequately resourced schooling, and continuing incorrect deficit assumptions related people’s socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Career education in Australian schools is often of particular concern and can be a very marginal part of the curriculum. Career advisors in low income school communities often have more limited capacity to assist all their students, with working class students mainly getting ‘working class work experience’.

New and emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, may provide a solution for creating opportunities for students from equity groups for deeper disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning and more authentic connection to post-school education and the world of work.

The project examined the under-representation of non-traditional students in high-status professions such as medicine, law, architecture, information and communications technology (ICT) and engineering, with a particular focus on students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds.

Conclusions and Considerations for Policy

Continued scholarly inquiry and policy accountability is indicated, relating to the complex factors that inhibit students experiencing disadvantage from reaching their academic potential, including access to an academic curriculum, inspiring quality career education, and a broad range of authentic ‘taster’ work experience placements.

A more transparent and sustained tracking of participation rates by broad and specific Fields of Education, including those related to high-status degrees, would ensure that the issue of proportional representational of students from equity groups stays firmly on the agenda for universities and the professions themselves. This would include serious scrutiny of equitable access to high-status degrees in elite universities.

There is a pressing need to more fully understand and respond to the experiences of students from equity groups who, often against considerable odds, secure a place in a high-status university degree, including their post-graduation aspirations and pathways.

Now is the time to commit to innovation in education and career exploration using new and emerging digital technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. This must be done with low-income school communities and university students from equity groups so that authentic technological applications are developed to motivate and enhance disciplinary learning and understand its links to the world of work.

This is an excerpt from ‘Fair Connection to Professional Carers: 2016 Equity Fellowship Report’