Are Higher Education Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds More or Less Confident than Their Peers? A Study of Perceived Employability with First-year Students at an Australian University

Dawn Bennett, Paul Koshy, Ian Li

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


[Extract] Over the past three decades, Australian higher education policy has encompassed a focus on the impact of various aspects of disadvantage, or ‘equity group status’, on higher education participation, be it attributable to socio-economic (students from backgrounds of low socio-economic status (SES)), locational (students from regional and remote areas), cultural (Indigenous students, students from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESBs)) or medical factors (disability). In addition, policy responses have also focused on related measures of disadvantage such as first-in-family (FiF) status. This has occurred as part of the increasing integration of ‘equity policy’ – those measures designed to ameliorate disadvantages associated with equity status – into overall higher education policy in Australia. Over the past decade, this has included measures to foster aspiration, access and participation in higher education across the general population through a series of measures including the expansion of university places, as well as specific measures to assist equity group students through funding for outreach and retention programmes (Koshy, 2016).
Recently, the focus in higher education policy globally has shifted towards outcomes, notably completion and post-graduate employment (Knight, 2019). In Australia, this has included a range of interventions and reporting initiatives,
including the establishment of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) website, which reports on undergraduates’ perceptions of their learning experience and graduate employment outcomes and salaries (QILT, 2021). An
alignment of measured outcomes and funding is also taking place in Australia, with the Australian government’s ‘Job-ready Graduates Package’ explicitly linking public funding for university places with observed deficits in the graduate
markets in certain technical and professional vocations, including those relating to fields of study in the sciences, mathematics and nursing (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020). These developments have necessitated a focus on ‘employability’ as a critical organising concept in relation to students’ educational and vocational planning. Employability can be defined as ‘the ability to find, create and sustain meaningful work across the career lifespan and in multiple contexts’ (Bennett, 2019a: i).
Importantly, it is an attribute that is mutable and therefore subject to transformation as students gradually progress through their education journey and gain
formative experiences as part of the process.
This chapter reports on the extent to which students’ perceptions of the development and perceived gaps related to their employability are affected by their
equity status. It draws on findings from the introduction of the employ-ability
self-assessment tool – a survey instrument for student self-reflection on key
employability traits, at a large, urban Australian higher education institution.
It reports on an analysis of responses from first-year students and sub-samples
for school-aged direct-entry students (‘school leavers’) and mature-age students
(‘non-school leavers’).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe SAGE Handbook of Graduate Employability
EditorsTania Broadley, Yuzhuo Cai, Miriam Firth, Emma Hunt, John Neugebauer
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSAGE Publications Ltd
ISBN (Electronic)9781529771848
ISBN (Print)9781529791068
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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