Fairness and inclusion: Online learning as an enabler of Australian higher education policies aimed at student equity and social justice

Andrea Dodo-Balu


Building social justice through access to higher education is a central concern for many universities across the world. In Australia, as elsewhere, online delivery of degree programs provides an important avenue to implement government policies aimed at both increasing overall participation in higher education and widening the participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These twin aspects of higher education policy reflect two differing models for achieving student equity in higher education; one which emphasises fairness and the other, inclusion. Using a qualitative research lens, this paper looks at the place of online study within a discussion of these two equity models and related social justice theories, supported by insights into the student experience gleaned from a small case study of a first-year online unit. The fairness model of student equity, with its focus on equitable distribution, is well supported by the unit’s high proportion of disadvantaged students. Yet it is the inclusion model, which provides room to go beyond the numbers and recognise the justice experienced by these students on an individual level, that more closely aligns with the transformative value that completing students report deriving from access to online study. Amartya Sen’s writings on social justice are foregrounded throughout the paper.


online learning; higher education policy; student equity; social justice; widening participation; Amartya Sen

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