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Opportunities and challenges for the institution and its new generation learners

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 10:30am – 11:00am parallel session



Room 4 – 303-G16, Sem



Dr Gayani Samarawickrema
Victoria University, Australia

Ms Kaye Cleary
Victoria University, Australia



Australian higher education driven by Dawkins and Bradley reforms have resulted in increased participation and broader student diversity (Brett & Harvey, 2017) and now include more First-in-Family (FiF), Low Socio-Economic Status (LSES), and Non-English-Speaking Background (NESB) students. Through the last three decades, universities targeted these cohorts for innovations and adopted a range of ad hoc strategies to support them (Thomas, 2014) as they face more challenges than their traditional counterparts (Devlin & O’Shea, 2012).  



Until now, no Australian university has implemented an institution-wide overhaul of its pedagogy, curriculum and delivery to support this expanding non-traditional new generation of learners. The Block Model developed by Victoria University (VU) for its undergraduate cohort was a bold response to support all students including its customary high proportion of students from diverse backgrounds. Students study one subject at a time over four weeks in this radical approach to enhance opportunity and success for all. 



Over 32,000 First-Year student results were analysed by VU’s Data Insights team. We compare the 2018 Block Model results with results of equivalent subjects studied in 2017 under the conventional semester system.



Preliminary results show improved pass rates of LSES students (67% versus 82%) with similar gains for medium and high SES students. NESB student success increased from 68% to 82% while English-speaking students also benefited. FiF rose from 73% to 86%, with an accompanying rise in those not FiF (Smallridge, 2019).



The Block Model has expanded opportunity and ensured success. Nonetheless, the Block remains a work in progress. Critical evidence-based judgements will be possible on completion of longitudinal studies. Several institutional research projects and smaller projects undertaken by individual academics are investigating the impact of aspects of the Block on teaching, learning and student performance. These will contribute to the evidence base for informed debate.



Brett, M., & Harvey, A. (2017). Advancing equity in the Australian higher education system. In R. James, S. French, & P. Kelly (Eds.), Visions for Australian tertiary education (pp. 77-89). Melbourne: Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne.
Devlin, M., & O’Shea, H. (2012). Effective university teaching: Views of Australian university students from low socio-economic status backgrounds. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(4), 385-397.
Smallridge, A. (2019). First Year College – Report to Academic Board. Victoria University, Melbourne.
Thomas, G. (2014). Closing the policy-practice gap for low-SES students in higher education: The pedagogical challenge. Higher Education Research & Development, 3(4), 807-820.


Presentation topic

Tertiary – New Developments

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