Overcoming disadvantage, achieving success: What helps


  • Helen Drury University of Sydney
  • Cassily Charles For this paper: University of Sydney Otherwise: Charles Sturt University


equity, inclusion, success, retention, academic skills, academic language and learning, disadvantage, helpful factors


The Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008) and subsequent government policies have led to increased participation in higher education of underrepresented or equity groups, “those disadvantaged by the circumstance of their birth” (p. xi). However, despite institutional interventions, disparity in retention and completion rates continues for these groups (Lim, 2015; Edwards & McMillan, 2015). Although objective measures allow institutions to report on inclusion targets, a focus on the student experience of disadvantaged groups is critical for the development of appropriate institutional support. This study used a mixed methods approach to survey successful students’ experiences of challenge or disadvantage while studying, their identification with equity groups and, importantly, their experience of success. The sample comprised 308 students who had sought help to develop their academic skills, a crucial area for success for all students but particularly disadvantaged students (McKay & Devlin, 2014). Findings confirmed that the majority had overcome some level of disadvantage, with the main types identified as, balancing commitments, health issues and financial stress. Although these align with factors identified by consecutive University/Student Experience Surveys (2013; 2014; 2015) as the most common reasons for withdrawal, our student sample overcame these challenges to achieve success. Discipline teaching staff and central support services, particularly academic language and learning, are the most common helpful factors and central support is increasingly important at greater levels of disadvantage. Our findings align with proposals for institutional provision for joint initiatives by teaching staff and central support services to address student disadvantage and enable success.

Author Biographies

Helen Drury, University of Sydney

Senior lecturer, Learning Centre, University of Sydney

Cassily Charles, For this paper: University of Sydney Otherwise: Charles Sturt University

Academic Literacy, Learning and Numeracy Coordinator, Office for Students, Charles Sturt University




How to Cite

Drury, H., & Charles, C. (2016). Overcoming disadvantage, achieving success: What helps. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 10(2), A48-A69. Retrieved from https://journal.aall.org.au/index.php/jall/article/view/417



Research Articles