Sarah O’Shea

Sarah O’Shea


Phone: (02) 4221 5838


Dr Sarah O’Shea is an Associate Professor in Adult, Vocational and Higher Education in the School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences. Sarah has over 20 years experience teaching in universities as well as the VET and Adult Education sector, she has also published widely on issues related to educational access and equity.Her solid publication record includes 27 peer reviewed journal articles, three scholarly books and five book chapters - this work has also featured in The Conversation, University World News and The Australian.

Since 2011, Sarah has obtained over $1 million dollars in research funding, all of which explores educational equity in the HE environment. In 2016, Sarah was awarded an ARC Discovery project exploring the persistence and retention of university students across Australia, Uk and Ireland. This international study builds upon an Australian Government Teaching and Learning Fellowship (2015–2016) and consolidates a decade of work in the student retention field ( which has focussed on students from a diversity of backgrounds. This includes a five-year partnership with AIME (Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) which has involved over $520,000 in national funding (ARC: $211,000; Federal Gov: $310,000) and included research activities across Australia with Indigenous young people , university mentors as well as key staff and stakeholders.

During her career, Sarah has also received numerous awards for teaching excellence including a national Australian Award for University Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (2012), her work has been recognised as one of UOW 40 Research Impacts and in 2016 she was recognised as one of UOW’s Women of Impact. Sarah is also an Australian Learning and Teaching Fellow and in 2017 was recognised as a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Authority (HEA - UK).

UOW Scholars Profile - Sarah O’Shea

Research Interests

Sarah works within a qualitative framework and has drawn upon narrative inquiry and grounded theory in her research activities.

Sarah is interested in conducting research and supervising Higher Degree Research students in the following areas:

  • First year Experience / The student experience in HE & VET
  • Second Chance Learners
  • Equity in Higher Education & VET
  • Cross-sectoral relations in tertiary education / Learner pathways / transitions
  • Student access, participation and engagement in HE & VET
  • Narrative inquiry research situated within social inclusion / social justice agenda

Research Grants

National Competitive Research Grants

  • 2017–2019: O’Shea, S. “Capitals and Capabilities: Rethinking higher education persistence”. Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP170100705). ($152,000)
  • 2017–2018: O’Shea, S., Southgate, E., Jardine, A., & Smith, S. Shifts in space and self: Moving from community to university. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education ($37,030)
  • 2017–2018: Walker-Gibbs, B., Ajjawi, R., Rowe, E., Skourdoumbis, A., Thomas, M., O’Shea, S. & Bennett, S., Success and Failure in Higher Education: An uneven playing field. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education ($38, 280)
  • 2015–2016: O’Shea, S. “Engaging Families to Engage Students": Exploring how university outreach activities can forge productive partnerships with families to assist first in family students navigate their higher education journey. Office for Learning and Teaching National Teaching Fellowship ($90,000)
  • 2014–2015: O’Shea, S., May, J. & Stone, C. Breaking the Barriers: supporting and engaging mature age first-in-family university learners and their families. Office for Learning and Teaching Seed Project Grant ($47,000)
  • 2014–2017: Harwood, V., Chandler, P., & O’Shea, S. Mentoring and Indigenous higher education: Understanding how university students mentor Indigenous school students. Australian Research Council Discovery Project. ($211,000)

Consultancy Grants

  • 2013–2016: Part of the research team that conducted a 3-year evaluation that examined the viability of the expansion of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. Australian Government Department of Education and Training ($200,000)
  • 2012–2013: Harwood, V., O’Shea, S., Clapham, K., Bodkin-Andrews, G., Wright, J., Kervin, L., & McMahon, S. (2013) Evaluation of the AIME Outreach Program, DEEWR and University of Wollongong: Australia. ($110,000)

Internal Competitive Grants (selected 2014 - 2017)

  • 2017: O’Shea, S., Bennett, S., Delahunty, J., Belfiore, L., Engaging students as partners in the design and development of a peer mentoring program. Educational Development Strategies Fund ($10,000)
  • 2015: O’Shea, S., Harwood, V., Howard, S. & Cliff, K. Evaluation of the UPP Project. Funded by Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. ($35,000).
  • 2014: Harwood, V., O’Shea, S., Howard, S. & Cliff, K. Evaluation of the In2Uni Project. Funded by Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. ($50,000).
  • 2014: Lysaght, P. & O’Shea, S. Providing embedded and holistic support to participants in The Djinggi Program. Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. ($14,000)
  • 2014: O’Shea, S. Rethinking Capital: Exploring the nature of cultural capital in the context of transition to higher education for first in family university students. University Research Committee (URC) Grant. ($10,000)

Professional Activities

Sarah has been recognised as a:

  • Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK) – this is the highest recognition awarded by the HEA and it recognises those who have made strategic management and leadership contributions to university teaching and learning at a national and international level.
  • National Australian Teaching and Learning Fellow, this is the highest teaching recognition within Australia and acknowledges those who have been making an ongoing and strategic contribution nationally to the Australian university teaching and learning sector.
  • 2017 Visiting Research Fellow, NCSEHE (Curtin University) to offer strategic input into the research and publications of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

Since 2016, Sarah has chaired the Wollongong Academy of Tertiary Teaching and Learning Excellence (WATTLE) Committee – in this role she has strategic responsibility and oversight for the Academy’s role in maintaining teaching and learning excellence across UOW.

Sarah is an active member of the Editorial Boards for the following journals:

  • Higher Education Research and Development
  • Student Engagement in Higher Education

She also reviews for a range of journals across the broad discipline of higher education.

Sarah also serves as an Executive Committee member for the Australian Teaching and Learning Fellowship and has been a volunteer Board member for the Kiama Community Colleges since 2011.


  • 2016: UOW Woman of Impact Award
  • 2015: OLT National Teaching Fellowship
  • 2012: Office of Learning and Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning
  • 2011: Faculty Teaching Award for a 2011 Vice Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning, University of Wollongong.
  • 2009: Vice Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning
    This citation was awarded: For the development and sustained implementation of a peer-led, student-centred transition strategy that empowers and inspires first year students from diverse backgrounds.
  • 2006: Vice Chancellors Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning
    This citation was awarded: For effectively and innovatively responding to the academic support needs of a diverse student population by providing an integrated model of learner support.
  • 2006: Australian Postgraduate Award, University of Sydney (2006–2008)
  • 2006: NSW Institute of Educational Research Award

Future Research Topics

  • Mature Age University students' narratives of arrival / transition
  • The arrival and transition of rural, remote and Indigenous students to the higher education environment

Research Students

  • Ashleigh Johnstone (Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)): Understanding the establishment of the AIME Vibe and mentoring model
  • Nadia Neal (Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)): Experiences of First in Family Indigenous Australian University Students and the Affects it has on their Social and Emotional Wellbeing
  • Sandra McGowan: Making the Glass-Ceiling Visible: Cultural Capital and Aspiration
  • Joanne Jenson (Doctor of Education): Investigation of the gap between learners’ expectations and their actual online experiences
  • Theresa Millman (Doctor of Education): Who do you think you are? Exploring the transformative experiences of students transitioning from TAFE to Higher Education
  • Kylie Austin: Partnerships in learning: Building a framework for collaboration
  • Jacinta McNamara (Doctor of Education): "Crossing the threshold into Higher Education". In what ways does accessing higher education through an enabling course impact upon male students who follow this pathway?
  • Lynn Jarvis (Doctor of Education): A Leap of faith: the negotiation of risk amongst non traditional students entering higher education via enabling pathways
  • Bradley Parkinson: Psychological barriers to participation in higher education
  • Patricia Powers (Doctor of Education): The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Threshold Concepts in Early Online Adult Education
Last reviewed: 21 September, 2017