Helping Year 12 students make better higher education choices

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Researchers from UniSA’s School of Natural and Built Environments are leading a collaborative study by all three South Australian universities that is considering how Year 12 students choose what they study after high school and what advice and support they need to help them make the best choices.

What Should I Study? Improving Tertiary Pathways by Improving Support for Prospective Students aims to gather information to help students make successful educational choices as they move from secondary to higher education and therefore improve study retention rates.

Project leader, UniSA Professor Julie Mills says retaining first-year students is an important objective for all Australian universities.

“We don’t usually think of it in this way but when students leave before completing their first year, it comes at a cost to that student, perhaps their family and more broadly, to the institutions, government and society,” Prof Mills says.

“We know there’s no one simple reason why students withdraw from studies during year one but strong student engagement is critical for their success in higher education.

“While there is currently anecdotal data, this project will provide evidence based recommendations on how we respond to help students improve choices, based on the advice and experiences of education professionals, and students who are about to leave secondary school.

“A big factor in the success of this research will be participation by high school principals and staff, so we’ll be calling on them shortly to participate by collaborating on several aspects of research for the project.”

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Researchers from UniSA, Flinders University and The University of Adelaide will approach every secondary school in South Australia and if all schools agree to be involved the study has the potential to reach more than 15,000 students.

Project team member, UniSA Associate Professor Delene Weber, has witnessed the difficult time prospective students in Australia often go through when deciding what to study.

“The difference in a student’s excitement and engagement when they’ve made a career study decision that suits them is palpable,” Assoc Prof Weber says.

“Conversely, it’s heartbreaking to see students who struggle or aren’t motivated because they’ve made a decision that doesn’t inspire them.

“Our research will investigate what support Year 12 students need and want, and at what points they make decisions about higher education.

“We’ll also examine how universities and high schools engage specifically with Year 12 students as they make decisions about their future – the quality of these interactions can’t be underestimated.

“It is important for students to receive resources in the right form at the right time from the right sources to help them make a decision that is personally suitable for them.

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“People in our education system are already working hard to provide this support, but I believe our research can add real rigor to what’s already been achieved.”

What Should I Study? Improving Tertiary Pathways by Improving Support for Prospective Students project details:

The research is being undertaken by the three Adelaide-based universities:

  • University of South Australia,
  • Flinders University, and
  • University of Adelaide

The project is led by University of South Australia. Team members include:

  • Professor Julie Mills (UniSA Project Lead)
  • Associate Professor Delene Weber (UniSA),
  • Professor Martin Westwell (Flinders),
  • Professor Karin Barovich (Adelaide), and
  • Andrea Parks (UniSA Project Manager)

The project aims to clarify the stages of the Year 12 Study Choice process, and to identify learning needs, in order to create a prospective student development framework for high schools and universities to use to support Year 12 students more consistently as they make plans for their future.

The outcomes will contribute to SACE improvement by providing evidence-based strategies that support student success and achievement in the transition from secondary to tertiary study, with the ultimate goal of fostering student success and retention.

Recruitment and Outreach Staff from each of the three Adelaide universities have already been interviewed and data analysis is underway.

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Input from the project’s advisory group, comprising 12 stakeholders from SA secondary schools, Recruitment and Outreach staff from SA Universities, DECD, Higher Education Participation and Partnerships (HEPPP), SACE, and the Career Development Association of Australia, has been invaluable, providing feedback on research design, data collection.

In May, the project team will connect with high schools across South Australia to gather data from key staff members and teachers who provide support to Year 12 students with post-school decisions.

The team will conduct a survey in August, aimed at all Year 12 Students enrolled in SA high schools. This will be followed by interviews with a selection of Year 12 students from a cross-section of high schools at three critical times, before SATAC deadlines, and between post-ATAR results and university offer rounds in January 2017.

The work is being funded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT), however the views expressed in this project will not necessarily reflect the views of the OLT. For more information, check out the project website or contact:

UniSA Project Manager Andrea Parks on 8302 3912 or at

(Source: University of South Australia)

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Date Created: May 13, 2016 Date Modified: May 14, 2016