Student access to higher education through alternative pathways and differences by equity group and discipline

Denise Jackson, Ian Li, David R. Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Widening participation in higher education for under-represented groups is a priority internationally. In Australia, the most common entry pathway for domestic undergraduate students is by obtaining an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) in the final year of secondary school. The ATAR system, however, has been criticised as disadvantaging certain equity groups. Consequently, widening participation policy has encouraged alternative entry pathways into university, including enabling/bridging courses, vocational education qualifications, or portfolio entry based on demonstrated skills and experience. There is, however, relatively scarce evidence of student use of these pathways, including those from equity groups. Drawing on national enrolment data and institution-specific pathway data for 16 Australian universities, this study’s examination of admission data found increasing use of alternative pathways among most student equity groups, with variations by discipline. The findings inform stakeholder understanding of the relative success of alternative entry pathways in widening participation, informing strategies for improvement and future policy. © 2023 Association for Tertiary Education Management and the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-625
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Higher Education Policy and Management
Issue number6
Early online date15 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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