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Residential colleges play a vital role in many of the best universities in the world. Intuitively, it seems clear that living in a university-affiliated residence would enhance students’ educational involvement and outcomes. Reports from those closely involved in residential colleges provide a considerable amount of support for this proposition. Anecdotal reports help build a rich picture of residential life in Australian higher education, but overly relying on such data limits the extent to which colleges can be situated, compared and understood within broader contexts. Hence it is helpful to complement perceptual reports with data that offer more objective insights into colleges and universities. Quantitative data are particularly helpful because with careful management they can inform analysis of the quality and impact of defined aspects of residential education. To that end, this briefing uses insights from the 2008 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) to explore the educational and demographic characteristics of first- and later-year students who are living in residence at an Australian university. Importantly, it looks beyond the social myths that often surround discussion of residential colleges - in particular that they are elitist or ancillary to the educational function of the system - and focuses on key educational fundamentals. The briefing synthesises research findings, and uses these as a background to report AUSSE results.