Privilege and disadvantage in Australian universities, and female postgraduate experience

Project lead

Dr Maree Martinussen

Project Details

Where we live or work, how we dress and talk, what sports we play—and whether to go to university and what to study—are all centrally shaped by social class identifications, such as 'working class' or 'middle class'. Yet, social class isn’t something that we hear much about in the media, and we also do not have much public discussion about Australian universities’ roles in perpetuating inequalities relating to social class.

The aim of this research is to find out more about how social class background affects student experience for women who are engaged in, or recently completed, postgraduate studies. Do students from different class backgrounds feel different pressures in their studies? Do students from all social backgrounds feel ‘at home’ at university? How do other identities, perhaps relating to age, ethnicity, or regional/urban cultures, affect experiences of social class at university?

How you can participate

There are two parts to this research, each with different criteria for participation.

Part 1 - Qualitative online survey

Estimated time: 20–30 minutes

Criteria: Participants must identify as women postgraduate, domestic students who are either enrolled at an Australian university, OR finished postgraduate studies in 2019 or later.

Complete the online survey.

Part 2 – Interviews and focus groups

Estimated time: Each participant will attend four research sessions, consisting of three interviews (60-90 mins each) and a focus group (90-120 mins), spread out over a period of approximately 18 months. In recognition of the high levels of contribution of time and effort, each participant will receive $40 worth of vouchers for each interview/focus group they attend (up to $160).

Criteria: Participants must identify as women postgraduate, domestic students who either are enrolled at an Australian university, OR finished postgraduate studies in 2019 or later. Participants must also identify as working class/ low socioeconomic student OR ethnic minority.

For more information, read the plain language statements for the interviews and focus group research.

This research has been approved by the University of Melbourne Human Ethics Advisory Group, reference Ethics Id: 2056680.1.


Dr Maree Martinussen

Dr Maree Martinussen is a postdoctoral researcher based at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

'I grew up in a low socioeconomic household and am the first in my family to attend university. I am of mixed ethnicity—I have Māori (Te Aitanga a Māhaki), British and Norwegian ancestry. As a student, I often felt like my experiences were quite different from those around me. However, it was (and still is) difficult to talk about those differences because, I believe, they were largely related to social class, which is often denied in public discussions. I want to create more opportunities for everyone to be able to talk about their social class positioning, and the different sorts of privilege or disadvantage they have.

A central aim of this research is to investigate the diversity of experiences and capacities of female students in relation to social class. One of the ways I hope to achieve this is by providing a safe space for participants to communicate their experiences, and by being open-minded about how complex mixes of class, ethnic, and other identities might play out in the lives of women postgraduate students.'

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which I work, which has never been ceded, and pay my respects to the Elders, past and present.