From the military to the academy: Supporting younger military veterans in Australian higher education

Andrew Harvey, Lisa Andrewartha, Matthew Sharp, Matthew Wyatt-Smith, Sandra Jones, Sue Shore, Michele Simons

    Research output: Book/ReportOther report


    In 2018 we conducted the first major national research into the experiences of military veterans in Australian higher education. That research revealed that veterans typically bring significant strengths to their studies, including discipline, leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. These skills prepare many veterans to succeed at university, while their experiences and perspectives can also inform others and contribute to a richer learning experience for all students. Despite these strengths, we found a number of barriers that impede access to higher education. Veterans have relatively high rates of unemployment, and many have suffered physical injuries and/or experienced trauma during their service. Formal support to transition from the military to higher education is relatively low, and many veterans spoke of the complexity of university admissions processes, and of a paucity of information and advice. Others addressed the issue of campus climate, believing that universities were not welcoming places for those who have served in the military.

    In addition to these challenges, our research identified that Australian universities were generally poor at recognising both the strengths of veterans and their formal qualifications obtained while in service. Admissions processes rarely provided recognition of service, and rarely considered military service records and the qualifications, both military and civilian, that veterans had undertaken. At a policy level, we also noted that Australia had no GI Bill like the United States, nor an Armed Forces Covenant to which many universities had committed, like the United Kingdom. Financial support for veterans to undertake higher education was limited, despite strong evidence of the link between higher education and higher employment rates. Data on veterans were also extremely limited, and the nature and extent of university participation, achievement, and experiences had simply not been documented.

    In this project we sought to address the aforementioned barriers and challenges
    through institutional change and advocacy. As a consortium of four universities, in collaboration with the Australian Student Veterans Association (ASVA), we
    developed strategies to improve university access, achievement and experiences. Generously supported by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and involving the
    employment of student veterans throughout the project, we changed our admissions processes to recognise and reward service; increased our academic, financial and pastoral support to veterans on campus; and worked to create new ASVA chapters to facilitate peer support. While focussed on change within our own institutions, we also continued to advocate for consistent and supportive admissions approaches by the state-based tertiary admissions centres, and for further support to veterans transitioning out of the military. At the time of writing, multiple tertiary admissions centres have either progressed or concluded processes to acknowledge military service as a formal admissions criterion.

    This report outlines our strategies, including the creation of veterans’ support programs, dedicated contact officers, direct entry schemes, online resources, flexible timetabling, staff and student training, and medical, legal and careers support. Based on sectoral consultation and the voices of student veterans, we have also developed national guidelines for professional and academic staff. These guidelines address the need for: a coordinated institutional approach, including a central point of contact and provision of wrap-around support; supportive transition arrangements, including development of outreach, pathways, credit for prior service and learning, and approaches to managing disclosure of veteran status; effective interaction with staff and students, including provision of leadership roles, peer support, and harnessing of classroom diversity; and broader university support, including disability and health services, financial support, career development, and flexible study arrangements. We also note the urgent need for better data capture and provision, in order to monitor the access, success, and graduate outcomes of
    student veterans. Such data are critical to stronger advocacy and policy reform.

    Supporting military veterans in higher education is a moral, economic, and academic imperative. Individual universities can promote access and success by strengthening the evidence base and developing specific attraction and success strategies as outlined in this report. More broadly, the support of peak bodies in higher education would help to acknowledge the importance of veterans nationally and to promote consistent approaches, while the development of greater public financial support for veterans transitioning to higher education could substantially raise participation levels. Both institutional and national reforms are therefore required to transition more veterans from the military to the academy. Such reforms would benefit the veteran community, the higher education sector, and Australian society more broadly.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationCentre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research, La Trobe University
    PublisherCentre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research, La Trobe University
    Number of pages24
    ISBN (Electronic)978-0-9946100-5-8
    Publication statusPublished - 2020
    EventFrom the Military to the Academy: Networking breakfast - Casuarina Campus, Darwin, Australia
    Duration: 18 Oct 201918 Oct 2019


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