Jan 24, 2021

Challenges of Access and Equity: The Higher Education Curriculum Answers Back


This project examines the complex operations of higher education (HE) curricula—in particular, its ability to provide a solution to the global challenge of increasing access to and equity in HE. While much of the current HE effort focuses on undergraduate curriculum renewal, this research interrogates two under-explored curriculum domains: doctoral education and the professional learning of academics. It investigates how these two domains are not only put to work in the service of access and equity, but have also become shaped by their demands. By bringing together four WUN partner universities across Australia, NZ, South Africa, and the UK to explore how these two under-researched curriculum domains are being called upon to provide a solution to the global challenge of access and equity, the project will provide fresh and compelling evidence/insights in relation to:

  • the nuanced understandings of access and equity which circulate among those involved in developing curriculum across four national HE systems;
  • the extent to which these understandings of access and equity are shaping and have insinuated themselves on the form and nature of HE curriculum; and
  • the challenges and changes to learners’ identities and subjectivities that result from a focus on access and equity in HE curriculum.

Each partner university will provide two in-depth qualitative case studies drawn from an analysis of key institutional texts and curriculum documents, as well as data from interviews and focus groups with major stakeholders. The case studies form the basis of two strategic position papers designed to stimulate international sector-wide HE discussion. To showcase the project’s outcomes, to build sustainability and strengthen future collaboration, the project will launch a series of high impact webinars, host an international academic conference, and will propose a special issue of an international peer reviewed academic journal.

Anticipated Outcomes

  • 1 report featuring 3 x institutional case studies: each WUN partner will contribute an institutional case study on one of the identified HE contexts. The case studies will contain data and evidence sourced from institutional documents and interviews with key stakeholders including students, staff and senior university leaders. The report is intended for university leaders who have strategic responsibility for curriculum renewal, equity and education.
  • 3 x position papers will be developed to situate the institutional case studies within a global HE policy context.These are intended to be high quality and high impact papers that will influence sector-wide discussions.
  • A series of webinars will act as a dissemination and research platform for policy makers, senior university leaders, scholars, early career academics and research students. It is intended that they bring together WUN universities associated with the Global Higher Education and Research challenge and will establish an ongoing program of research.
  • An international conference hosted by the University of Sydney will focus on one of the contexts: academic career progression.
  • A special issue of an international academic journal will support the scholarly dissemination of the case studies, position papers and the conference. It will serve a second purpose, which is to invite the HE research community to engage with the themes of the project. Targeted journals include: Higher Education Research and Development, Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education, and Journal of Curriculum Studies. Proposals for funding partnerships will be developed aimed at extending one or two of the identified HE contexts—targeted at, for example, the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching, Ako Aotearoa (NZ National Centre for Tertiary Excellence), HE Academy, UK; HE Learning & Teaching Society of South Africa.

Selected outcomes

A journal article – “The uneasy place of equity in higher education: tracing its (in)significance in academic promotions” in Higher Education

A project report: Challenges of Access and Equity – The Higher Education Curriculum Answers Back – A/Prof Mark Barrow, A/Prof Barbara Grant & Dr Frances Kelly, University of Auckland