Improving educational equity

An ongoing and substantive contribution to educational equity has been the hallmark of Associate Professor Sarah O’Shea’s work at UOW.

Tall OShea

O’Shea, from the School of Education, has set her goal to improve university outcomes for diverse learners.

Nationally, O’Shea leads research that focuses on higher education participation among equity groups -- including students from low socio-economic status backgrounds and Indigenous students. She also focuses on those who are regarded as being at-risk of attrition such as first-in-family students, ‘second chance’ learners and Indigenous students.

Her institutional and nationally funded research studies advance understanding of how under-represented student cohorts navigate transition into the university environment, manage competing identities and negotiate aspirations for self and others.

To further this research agenda, O’Shea has obtained institutional, commercial and national competitive funding, totalling more than $850,000 since 2011. This funding includes a multi-institutional grant from the Office for Learning and Teaching (2014-2015), which O’Shea led, and an Australian Research Council Discovery Project on the national Indigenous student mentoring program AIME (2013-2016).

O’Shea has engaged practical strategies including: a focus on equity groups; recognition of the multiplicity of student transition and the need to provide targeted support timed to particular points in the year; and involvement of the wider family and community of the student.

O’Shea has more than 20 years of teaching experience across a variety of adult education contexts, providing academic skills support to diverse student populations before moving into an academic role to further her research output.

“This diverse background has provided me with a unique insight into the nature of the university student experience and prompted my PhD (2009), which qualitatively explored how older female learners, all of whom were first in their family to attend university, managed their transition into this environment, among many competing demands,” she said.

O’Shea continues her work in this field with a prestigious OLT National Teaching and Learning Fellowship (2015-2016), focussing on the engagement and retention of first in family university students.