Contextual and situational influences on student success

Professor Karen Nelson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students), USC

The notion of student success is multifaceted, variously interpreted, quantifiable as well as nebulous, both collective and individual, and often transient in nature.  Nevertheless, the term is almost universally regarded as the key indicator of an effective educational experience.  There are robust discussions about various student and institutional characteristics and their relationships with traditional measures of success: namely student completion and retention rates.  However, there is an increasing body of evidence which adopts a wider perspective and considers the contextual and situational factors that influence to student success.  In this keynote, I will discuss some of the complexity associated with student success by adopting a wider perspective that identifies some of the contextual and situations that impact on student success.  I will use a recently modified framework of student engagement (Kahu and Nelson, 2017) to frame the presentation and I will examine the importance of ‘student engagement’ as a mechanism for mediating student success by presenting evidence arising from a large qualitative multi-institutional study that investigated the role of engagement in student success through a series of case studies.

Keywords: student success, student engagement, higher education, retention, completion


Karen is responsible for developing the USC student experience the range of innovative curricular and co-curricular initiatives to enhance the student experience, retention and success.  For 17 years, her research and practice have focused on student engagement in higher education.  In addition to her work at USC and prior to that at QUT, she has led a series of large national projects, which have produced transferrable resources for the sector. These include a maturity model for student engagement and social justice framework for higher education.  In 2016, she led an eight-institution national project ‘Shaping the 21st century student experience in regional universities’ and in 2017 produced a research report for the NCSEHE ‘Understanding the completion patterns of equity students in regional universities’.  Karen is the Editor of the Student Success Journal and Co-Chair of the annual STARS Conference.  Her service and contributions to the sector have been recognized by three Australian Awards for University Teaching.  In 2016 she was made Principal Fellow of the UK-based Higher Education Academy for her sustained record of strategic impact at institutional, national and international level and her commitment to leadership in teaching.

Engaging students for success: Integrating pedagogical approaches, student experiences and desired outcomes

Professor Lily Kong, Provost and Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences at the Singapore Management University (SMU)

Student success is often defined in terms of outcomes, such as the timely completion of a college degree, and the acquisition of desired knowledge, skills and competencies. However, it is essential for institutions to bear in mind that successful outcomes are enabled by targeted processes. Studies have shown that a key factor that leads to student success is student engagement. This may be considered from two perspectives – the extent to which students invest time and effort in educationally purposeful activities; and the degree to which institutions invest resources to facilitate and encourage students to participate in activities that would lead to the desired outcomes. In this talk, I focus on what institutions can do to enhance student engagement, and share our Singapore Management University (SMU) experience of integrating our student experience purposefully with our desired outcomes, through our pedagogical framework and approaches, curriculum and co-curriculum.


Professor Lily Kong is Provost and Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

A graduate of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and University College London, Professor Kong was a faculty member in the NUS Department of Geography from 1991 to 2015.  She took on numerous administrative positions from 1995, often concurrently, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (2000 – 2003); Dean of the University Scholars Programme (2002 – 2003); Vice Provost (Education) (2004 – 2007); Vice-President (University and Global Relations) (2007 – 2014); Acting Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), Yale-NUS College (2011 – 2012); and Vice-Provost (Academic Personnel) (2012-2015).  She was a key force in shaping and establishing Singapore’s first liberal arts college.  She moved to SMU in late 2015.

Professor Kong is well-known for her research on religion, cultural policy and creative economy, urban heritage and conservation, and national identity.  She remains actively engaged in research.  Recent publications include “Religion and Space: Competition, Conflict and Violence in the Contemporary World” (2016), “Food, Foodways and FoodscapesCulture, Community and Consumption in Post-Colonial Singapore” (2015) and “Arts, Culture and the Making of Global Cities: Creating New Urban Landscapes in Asia” (2015).

Empowering First Nations as co-producers of learning, not mere recipients of teaching

Tony Dreise1

1 Indigenous Scholar at the Australian National University

By virtue of being among the oldest continuing cultures on Earth, Aboriginal peoples of Australia are able to draw upon deep wells of knowledge and wisdom. But having now struggled against torrid tides of colonisation for over two hundred years, our First Nations are now having to navigate, think and act in an increasingly globalised and complex world. This reality brings both threats and opportunities.

A book published in 2013 called ‘Learning a Living’, by Hannon and others, helps open our eyes and minds to the fundamental purpose and agency of learning, particularly for those in developing and globalised contexts. The authors argue that in the 21st Century, education has to empower and support learners in becoming active producers of learning and not just passive consumers of it. This is true for Australia’s First Nations contexts. Educational experiences have to be meaningful, culturally responsive and affirming, driven by underpinning motives of personal and collective agency, and geared toward producing stronger communities and a better world.

From our schooling sector right through to higher education, education systems throughout the world are becoming increasingly attentive to a number of critical success factors in learner success such as lateral thinking, problem solving, and proficiency in information technology. Fadel, for example, identifies four C’s that need to drive education in the 21st Century – Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration. From a First Nations perspective, perhaps Fadel’s four could be complemented by four more – Cultural bridging, Caring for Country, and building inner Confidence and Character? In combination, these eight skills and attributes are more likely to empower learners in their quest for meaning, stronger intracultural and intercultural relationships, environmental sustainably, career success, and enterprise development. As educators, we are in a unique position to turn threats into opportunities by empowering First Nations people in shaping our curriculum, thinking, teaching, and lifelong and life-wide learning.


Tony Dreise is a proud descendent of the Guumilroi and Euahlayi peoples of north-west New South Wales and south-west Queensland.

Tony is an independent consultant who undertakes research; policy analysis; curriculum and resource development; change management; and community planning for government, community, philanthropic and education bodies. He is also an Indigenous Scholar at the Australian National University, where he is finalising his PhD study into the role of Australian philanthropy in Indigenous education. He holds both a Bachelor of Teaching degree and a Masters of Public Administration.

Over the past twenty-five years, Tony has served in a number of professional capacities including as a senior executive in government, a regional director in Indigenous education, and a national executive in Indigenous adult education and youth training connected to the then Australian National Training Authority. In more recent years, he served as the former Hub Leader and Principal Research Fellow for Indigenous Education at the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Tony is a passionate advocate of both lifelong learning and regional development. At a national level, he is a former Board Member of Adult Learning Australia and a former Member of the National Vocational Training Equity Advisory Council. At a regional level, Tony has volunteered in a number of capacities including as both President of the Northern Rivers Social Development Council and Deputy Chair of the Northern Rivers Board of Regional Development Australia.

Tony’s work in Indigenous education has appeared in both Australian and international publications and conferences. His work at a national level has included analysis of how Indigenous children and young people are faring in Australian education. Tony is a firm believer that Indigenous education results will only improve through sustained and continuous improvement within education institutions and within the wider community environments in which children and young people live. As such, he has been keen to advance theories and programs in ‘whole child’ development, ‘place-based’ investment, and de-institutionalised equity.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at

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