Sample of a Literature Review

The following example is taken from a paper which addressed the following topic: Enabling (preparatory) programs into higher education play a major role in providing and enhancing educational opportunities for educationally disadvantaged students. 

Literature Review

Enabling programs are a common and successful strategy for improving educational opportunities and subsequent success for disadvantaged students in the USA (Tripodi 1994), UK (Davies & Parry 1993), New Zealand (James 1994) and Australia (Postle, Clarke & Bull 1997).  In the USA these tend to be intensive summer programs offered prior to enrolment for ‘at risk' ‘minority' (sic) (meaning ‘racial minority') students; while for the UK, New Zealand and Australia they tend to be pre-enrolment programs that facilitate access to higher education by mainly mature students who lack conventional entry qualifications, generally because of a background of disadvantage.  (A distinction will be drawn here to smaller scale ‘bridging programs' that address only very specific aspects of preparedness, for example, bridging Mathematics programs for enhancing the Maths skills of students entering technical fields.  Although these often represent important equity initiatives, their tight focus and relatively short duration serve to distinguish them from the broader and more intensive enabling programs that are the focus of this paper.)

In an extensive study of the Scottish Wider Access (SWAP) Programs, Munn, Johnstone & Robinson (1994) noted that such access programs have been: 'remarkably successful in attracting traditionally under-represented groups in higher education' (p.73).  The need for enabling programs as an access pathway for Australian higher education is demonstrated by a consideration of retention rates to Year 12.  Although secondary school completion rates significantly improved during the 1980s - with 35% of the ‘1961 birth cohort' completing high school by 1980, rising to 55% for the ‘1970 cohort' by 1989 (Williams et al. 1993) and rising to peak at nearly 80% during the 1990s - the legacy of the period before the mid-to-late 1980s when the majority of Australian children failed to complete secondary studies remains.  There still exists a high proportion of Australian adults and a very significant proportion of young adults who lack the qualifications and level of educational preparedness generally accepted as being necessary to enter and progress through an undergraduate program with a reasonable expectation of success.  It is not surprising that a high proportion of students enrolled in enabling programs are the first members of their families to attempt tertiary study and are frequently the members of recognised disadvantaged groups that are at high risk of experiencing educational disadvantage - such as the socio-economically disadvantaged, and people living in rural and geographically isolated areas (Williams et al. 1993; Bull & Clarke 1998).  A further consideration is the likelihood that recent changes in government policy, such as those relating to Austudy and HECS entitlements, will recreate the class distinctions in higher educational opportunities.  Birrell & Dobson (1997) reported that: 'Information on the class characteristics and financial support of commencing Monash students indicates that students from moderate to low income families will face increasing difficulties in accessing university places' (p. 49).  This, coupled with the easing off of high school completion rates that has been observed during the last half of the 1990s, could mean that there will be an increasing need for enabling programs in the future to address the inadequate preparedness of an increasing number of the current crops of school leavers.

 As well as providing a physical access pathway for educationally disadvantaged students, enabling programs have been proven to be effective in improving future student retention and success.  It is well documented that educationally disadvantaged students entering undergraduate programs from tertiary preparation courses typically perform as well as or better than their peers entering through other pathways (Beasley 1997; Lewis 1994; Tripodi 1994; Wisker, Brennan & Zeitlyn 1990).  Ramsay et al. (1996) reported that the basis for attrition of indigenous students at the University of South Australia relate strongly to factors that can be addressed in enabling programs - ‘uncertainty as to expectations in lectures and tutorials', ‘poor organisation of time', ‘difficulties with transition into university', and ‘a lack of prerequisite knowledge and basic skills'.  These findings were supported by Bourke, Burden & Moore (1996) who also identified ‘isolation' and ‘motivational problems' as major reasons for student withdrawal that may be addressed through participation in enabling programs.  These authors noted that some study within 12 months of university entry greatly reduced the risk of attrition for indigenous students.  In accordance with these observations, Ramsay et al. (1996) reported that indigenous students entering higher education study through enabling programs often had higher success rates and lower attrition than indigenous students entering through other admissions pathways - although considerable annual variation in student performance between groups was observed.  (~750 words)


Beasley, V. 1997, Democratic Education: An examination of access and equity in Australian higher education, A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of South Australia.

Birrell & Dobson, I. 1997, ‘Equity and university attendance: The Monash experience', People and Place, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 49-57.

Bourke, C.J., Burden, J.K. & Moore, S. 1996, Factors Affecting Performance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students at Australian Universities: A case study, Report of a study supported by the Commonwealth EIP program, AGPS, Canberra.

Bull, D. & Clarke, J. 1998, ‘Recognising Disadvantage: Some implications of using group classifications to identify disadvantaged individuals', Paper delivered at the 3rd National Equity & Access Conference, Yeppoon, Qld, 29 September - 2 October.

Davies, P. & Parry, G. 1993, Recognising Access: The formation and implementation of the National Framework for the Recognition of Access Courses, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, London.

James, M. 1994, ‘Making choices: A New Zealand bridging program in action', Proceedings of Issues in Access To Higher Education Conference, University of Southern Maine, Portland.  pp. 213-219.

Lewis, D.E. 1994, The Performance at University of Equity Groups and Students Admitted via Alternative Modes of Entry, Report of a study supported by the Commonwealth EIP program, AGPS, Canberra.

Munn, P., Johnstone, M. & Robinson, R. 1994, The Effectiveness of Access Courses: Views of access students and their teachers, The Scottish Council for Research in Education, Edinburgh.

Postle, G.D., Clarke, J.R. & Bull, D.D. 1997, ‘Equity programs and strategies reported by the Australian higher education sector', Chapter 8 in G.D. Postle, J.R. Clarke, E. Skuja, D.D. Bull, K. Batorowicz & H.A. McCann (Eds.), Towards Excellence in Diversity: Educational equity in the Australian higher education sector in 1995, University of Southern Queensland Press, Toowoomba.  pp. 115-140.

Ramsay, E., Tranter, D., Sumner, R. & Barrett, S. 1996, Outcomes of a University Flexible Admissions Policies, Report of a study supported by the Commonwealth EIP program, AGPS, Canberra.

Tripodi, L.F. 1994, ‘Summer Start: A program to equalize accessibility to higher education for ‘at risk' students', Proceedings of Issues in Access To Higher Education Conference, University of Southern Maine, Portland.  pp. 64-71.

Williams, T., Long, M., Carpenter, P. & Hayden, M. 1993, Year 12 in the 1980's, Report of a study supported by the Commonwealth EIP program, AGPS, Canberra.

Wisker, G., Brennan, L. & Zeitlyn A. 1990, ‘The interface: Access students, access courses and higher education', Journal of Access Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 162-176.

Taken from: Clarke, J. & Bull, D. 1998, ‘The importance of enabling programs in providing higher educational opportunities for the educationally disadvantaged', Paper presented at the 3rd National Equity & Access Conference, Yeppoon, Qld, 28 Sep. - 1 Oct. Thanks to the authors for granting permission to use their article.