The symposium commences at 1.00pm on Thursday 21st November (Day 1) and reconvenes on Friday 22nd November (Day 2) from 8.30am to 3.30pm. Ticket registration is for both days


This symposium will bring together key thinkers and scholars who have applied the capability theory (Sen 1992, 1993) and capital theory (Bourdieu, 1986, 1993) across disciplines to consider how this framing may assist us to reconceptualise student persistence.

We know little about how learners draw on ‘internal capabilities’ (Nussbaum, 2011) when persisting in university; these capabilities are not innate but instead develop in interaction with the individual’s environment (social, cultural, familial and political). Exploring how internal capabilities assist HE persistence and the functionings that support these capabilities will contribute alternative perspectives to the issue of student participation and retention. Rather than continuing to focus on what people lack (i.e. wealth, ability, language) why not focus on strengths in order to develop understandings that challenge traditional notions of access and participation? With the growth in diverse student populations, the need to understand the internal capabilities that support academic persistence and success is urgently required. This symposium deliberately shifts attention away from deficit views of student cohorts and instead utilises the Capability Approach and Capital Theories to understand the ways in which students successfully navigate higher education and reach graduation.

We have invited a range of speakers from across disciplines to contribute innovative perspectives to this broad field and the symposium would be of interest to the following:

  • Researchers / scholars of HE (particularly those researching equity fields)
  • Equity / Widening Participation Stakeholders 
  • Academic staff 
  • Policy Makers 
  • Representatives from not-for-profit / community organisations 

Invited Speakers

Dr Dina Bowman: University of Melbourne

Presentation title: Evening up the odds and changing the ‘rules of the game

Dr Dina Bowman is Principal Fellow, Work and Economic Security in BSL’s Research and Policy Centre and Honorary Principal Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences, at the University of Melbourne. Dina’s  research focuses on work, employment, economic security and inequality. As an economic sociologist, she is interested in how gender, class, age, ‘race’ and disability intersect with paid and unpaid work to shape economic advantage or disadvantage across the life course. She is particularly interested in the lived experience of economic insecurity, low paid work and income support, how social policy impacts on people’s lives and policy responses to economic insecurity. She leads research on work and economic security at the Research and Policy Centre at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.  She leads the longitudinal study Life Chances, which is now in its 29th year.

Professor Penny-Jane Burke: University of Newcastle 

Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith: University of Sussex

Presentation title: Endeavour, privilege, luck: Considering the interplay of internal and external resources in the lives of Widening Participation students

Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Sussex in the UK. Her background is as a sociologist of gender and education, and she is a former Co-Director of the Sussex Centre for Gender Studies and current Deputy Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Research. Tamsin’s central research interests include around higher education participation by ‘non-traditional’ students, and experiences of (un)belonging and marginalisations. Tamsin’s work has included around university students who are lone and teenage parents; care leavers; from Gypsy, Roma or Traveller (GRT) backgrounds; and young people living in areas where higher education participation is low. Tamsin commenced university as a single teenage parent herself. Recent sole and co-authored articles include Higher education outreach: examining key challenges for academics. (2019), Roma women’s higher education participation: whose responsibility? (2018), The ‘success’ of looked after children in Higher Education in England: near peer coaching, ‘small steps’ and future thinking. (2018), and Negotiating the risk of debt-financed higher education: the experience of lone parent students. (2016).  

Dr Tebeje Molla: Deakin University

Presentation title: Disadvantaged Social Position and Educational Outcome: A Capability Perspective

Dr Tebeje Molla is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow in Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education, Research for Educational Impact (REDI). His research focuses on educational inequality and policy responses, transnational educational policy processes, graduate research training policy, and teacher professional learning. Theoretically, his work is informed by critical sociology and a capability approach to social justice and human development. 

Dr Lien Pham: University of Technology

Title: Sen-Bourdieu agency and reflexivity: A student-centred approach to understand participation and achievement in higher education

Dr Lien Pham is a lecturer in the Graduate Research School at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research and publications are in education and development, sociology of education, civil society, social justice, and diaspora. She has consulted for various NSW government agencies in policy-focused research and evaluations, and for multilateral organisations including UNESCO Bangkok on educational policy reforms.

Day 1: Thursday 21st November – Bldg 20 UOW Campus
Acknowledgement to Country
Welcome to UOW
Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Julia Coyle
1.30pmBackground and context:
* the why of the project
* why are you here?
2.00pmOpening Address
Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith
3.00pmAfternoon tea and networking
3.30pmStudent panel discussion:
What helped me to persist?
Invitation to meet for dinner in Wollongong at own cost – details to follow.
Day 2: Friday 22nd November – Bldg 20 UOW Campus
8.30amRegistration and coffee – Bldg 20 Foyer
9.20amOpening Address #2
Dr Dina Bowman
10.20amMorning tea and networking
10.45amInvited Paper #1
30 minutes plus 15 minutes for questions
11.30amInvited Paper #2
30 minutes plus 15 minutes for questions
12.15pmInvited Paper #3
30 minutes plus 15 minutes for questions
1.00pmLunch and networking
How can capabilities and capitals inform our understanding of higher education persistence and success?
2.45pmFinal thoughts

Nb. This is a draft program that is subject to change

Registration and Travel details are here.