Digital Equity in Australian Higher Education: How Prisoners are Missing Out

Julie Willems, Helen Farley, Jane Garner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperOtherpeer-review


With the growth in the use of the internet and accompanying digital technologies as part of business as usual for teaching and learning in higher education, there are more opportunities for participation. The rhetoric is that these technologies are able to increase participation by non-traditional cohorts. However, the reality remains that this reliance on connectivity and technology is also preventing many others from participating in higher education. For example, the delivery of course materials and activities exclusively through the internet is problematic, when the distribution of that access is not democratic in itself. Digital equity is a significant human rights issue that needs to be addressed. This paper opens a dialogue about digital equity in teaching and learning in higher education, through the lens of the incarcerated student. While universities move away from delivering printed materials for their remote learners, in every state and territory of Australia, prisoners are prohibited from directly accessing the internet, further disadvantaging this sector of the population. Highlighting this continuing digital divide is crucial to the continuing equitable development of our sector, and for the scholarship of teaching and learning; it is also an issue of humanity. Any serious attempt to encourage disadvantaged cohorts to participate in higher education must include strategies to deal with the continuing marginalisation of students. In the case of incarcerated students, some policy decisions regarding access to the digital environment and its associated hardware may need to be reviewed by correctional jurisdictions. Only in this way will the rhetoric match the reality for the populations who are among our most disadvantaged.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch and Development in Higher Education
Subtitle of host publication(Re)Valuing Higher Education
EditorsDale Wache, Don Houston
Place of PublicationHammondville NSW Australia
PublisherHigher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9780908557967
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes
EventHigher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Annual Conference 2018 - Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 2 Jul 20185 Jul 2018
Conference number: 41st


ConferenceHigher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Annual Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleHERDSA Conference 2018
Internet address


  • Digital equity
  • higher education
  • incarcerated students
  • prisoner education
  • off-campus learning
  • eLearning

Cite this