Towards a southern theory of student equity in Australian higher education: Enlarging the rationale for expansion

Trevor Gale


Student equity in Australian higher education is a numbers game. While university student recruitment departments focus on ‘bums on seats’, equity advocates draw attention to which bums, in what proportions and, more to the point, which seats, where. But if the counting of ‘bums’ is crude, so is the differentiation of seats. Just distinguishing between courses and universities and scrutinizing the distribution of groups is a limited view of equity. This paper proposes an expanded conception for student equity and an enlarged regard for what is being accessed by students who gain entry to university. Drawing on Connell’s notion of ‘southern theory’, the paper highlights power/knowledge relations in higher education and particularly for ‘southerners’: those under-represented in universities, often located south of cut-off scores, and whose cultural capital is similarly marginalised and discounted. The paper concludes that taking account of marginalized forms of knowledge requires thinking differently about what higher education is and how it gets done.


higher education; student equity; social inclusion; widening participation; social justice; power/knowledge; cultural capital

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