Why access and equity are vital to a University’s DNA

Written by Jodie Davis,  Associate Director, The University of Newcastle



I have told this story more than a few times at Orientation- I am often so surprised that I have the privilege of standing before the commencing cohort at the University of Newcastle (UON) to welcome them to campus. I couldn’t even find the venue for my own orientation at UON! After multiple laps of the campus, my father finally conceded that we were lost and pulled over, so we could ask someone for directions. Lesson #1- you will get lost- more than once! Don’t be too shy or embarrassed to ask for help.

In fact, as the first person in my family to go to university I had to ask for help just to complete the application form! I had no idea how the preference-based admissions system worked, or how to give myself the best chance of being accepted to my dream degree. I wasn’t alone. More than 50% of the UON’s commencing cohort each year are the first in their family to attend university, a figure that is consistent nationally.

Globally, reports indicate that the first in family, or first generation, cohort are more likely to struggle academically and/or drop out of university altogether. So, what can universities do to support these students? In many cases it can be simple things, such as using plain language and avoiding jargon and assumptions when communicating just in time, practical information, particularly during transition and onboarding of new students. In some cases, more complex challenges will require a more specialised service such as support for academic skills development. In reality, the student experience that universities need to provide for first in family students is not that different to the student experience we should strive to for all of our students- an experience that is designed to meet their specific needs.

As an 18-year-old I had no idea that going to university would be such a life-changing experience. I was exposed to a world of opportunities and ideas, growing in confidence and finding my voice. Every opportunity I have had since finishing university I put down to the fact that I completed a degree. Opportunities that my parents, who both left school at an early age, could only dream of. I am a passionate believer in the benefits of a university education and so it’s no surprise that I found a satisfying and successful career in higher education at a university that has access and equity in its DNA.

Jodie will be presenting at the Student Experience Summit in Melbourne this November