Conceptual framework

As the Australian federal government agenda in relation to widening participation is implemented, an increasing number and proportion of higher education students in the Australian sector will be from low socio-economic status backgrounds.  Devlin (2010) has noted that institutions within the sector in Australia may not be ready to respond en masse to ensuring the success of all students in the future and that significant change in policy and practice is needed.  Underlining those changes should be a clear conception that guides the changes appropriately.

This research project develops a distinctive framework that embodies an Australian conception of inclusive teaching in higher education. We argue that Australia should avoid adopting either a deficit conception of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds or a deficit conception of the institutions in which they study. We argue further that, rather than being the primary responsibility of the student or of the institution to change to ensure the success of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the adjustments necessary to ensure achievement for these students in Australian higher education would be most usefully conceptualised as a 'joint venture' toward bridging socio-cultural incongruity (Devlin, 2011).

The team has adopted the notion of 'bridging socio-cultural incongruity' (Devlin, 2011) to conceptualise effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in higher education. We have adopted the symbol of the bridge as a representation of this conception. The conception is explained in detail in Devlin (2011) and in summary here.


Devlin, M. (2010). Non-traditional student achievement: Theory, policy and practice in Australian higher education. Keynote Address. First Year in Higher Education (FYHE) international conference, Adelaide, June 27-30, 2010.(Accessed April 14, 2011)

Devlin, M. (2011). Bridging sociocultural incongruity: Conceptualising the success of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in Australian higher education.  Studies in Higher Education. Online: