Thursday 21st November 1.00pm – 4.30pm and Friday 22nd November, 8.30am – 3.30pm

Background to the Symposium

This symposium is being funded as part of an ARC Discovery project entitled Higher education participation and success: Investigating the persistence strategies of students who are the first in their family to attend university. Between 2017-2018, interviews and surveys were utilised to gather data from first in family students in their final year of study, to understand the capitals and capabilities that assisted their persistence. A total of 12 universities across Australia and Europe participated, with 473 survey respondents and 96 interviews, outputs from this data set include journal articles (HERD article and Language and Education) and presentations.

Additionally, this research was utilised to develop a Capabilities Persistence Framework – this is currently being reviewed by an expert reference group and also, the students and stakeholders who participated in this research. The final Persistence Framework will be available to practitioners in early 2020.

SARAH O’SHEA (BA, MA, PhD) Professor, School of Education, University of Wollongong

Professor Sarah O’Shea has spent over twenty-five years working to effect change within the higher education (HE) sector through research that focuses on the access and participation of students from identified equity groups. Her institutional and nationally funded research studies advance understanding of how under-represented student cohorts enact success within university, navigate transition into this environment, manage competing identities and negotiate aspirations for self and others. This work is highly regarded for applying diverse conceptual and theoretical lenses to tertiary participation, which incorporate theories of social class, identity work, gender studies and poverty. Sarah has published extensively in the field and has been awarded over $AUD3 million in grant funding since 2009. Sarah is also an Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow (ALTF), a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), a Churchill Fellow (CF) and in 2018 was awarded a Research Fellowship with the Australian National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. . Links to external sources for Sarah include: Research ProfileFirst-in-Family website and blog network.

Lecturer, Teaching and Curriculum Development, University of Wollongong

JANINE’S research is motivated by how the educational experience can be enriched, particularly for diverse learners and those from educationally disadvantaged circumstances. She has a keen interest in people’s lived experiences and what motivates them to persevere, stemming from her own experience as a mature-age student ‘trying out’ university, to then discover a love for learning, researching and writing. Her ongoing research spans all facets of the learning journey – online learners and instructors, first-in-family students, Indigenous students, academics, rural and remote students. She works in academic professional development and various research projects at the University of Wollongong. Recent contributions to research include first-in-family student experiences, an approach to embedding Aboriginal knowledges into curriculum, students as partners projects and online learning pedagogies. Janine was recognised as a UOW Impact Maker 2018 for pursuing research activities that directly impact approaches to supporting and engaging learners in HE.

Other members of the Research Team

OLIVIA GROVES, BCom, BTeach (Primary) MEd [TESOL], PhD

OLIVIA is an experienced educator, having taught diverse learners across Australia and Asia in primary, language education, and tertiary settings. Olivia’s research activity seeks to understand the sociocultural conditions under which learning takes place in order to inform policy and practice to maximise the potential for learning and success for all students.Olivia’s doctoral research investigated the participation of international students in the local Australian community during their overseas study experiences. This work has been published in a key journal, Higher Education and Research Development. Olivia’s current work involves project managing two projects: an Australian National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Fellowship project on graduate employability and an NCSEHE grant investigating best practice careers advice.


Having enjoyed an eclectic array of working experiences WENDY commenced higher education as a mature age student and now finds her academic interests coalesce around the disciplines of communications and sociology. With a passion for equity in education, the lived experience along with the opportunity to work within the student equity and success landscape creates windows for involvement in varied projects. A self-proclaimed digital media advocate, Wendy is always looking to explore how to use these platforms to maximise student engagement with learning.