Closing Panel Session

Closing Panel Session

Heads and friends of Enabling

Considering the conference theme ‘Reimagining enabling in higher education’, panelists will be prompted to discuss their own vision for the enabling sector and the goals the sector and its people need to prioritise for the security and sustainability of enabling programs.


Associate Professor Anna Bennett
Director Pathways and Academic Learning Support Centre
University of Newcastle

Associate Professor Anna Bennett is Director of the Pathways and Academic Learning Support (PALS) Centre at the University of Newcastle, NSW, which provides higher education pathways, preparation programs and learning support for over 16,000 domestic and international students every year. For almost 50 years, the PALS Centre has offered the largest and oldest open-access, free university pathways in the country. Dr Bennett has a Phd in Sociology (UNSW) and her research explores higher education pathways, transitions, equity programs and their evaluation, and the policies which shape them. She develops approaches that include collaborations with industry partners from a diversity of businesses, organisations and other educational providers, to ensure program reach and student support (including significant industry supported pathway scholarships).

Anna’s total funding is $886,464 (11 grants) in the field of pathways and equity, with the majority competitive commissioned grants (HERD C). Anna led the Equity Initiatives Framework (EIF), a national review of access and equity program impact drawn on by many universities to guide and evaluate their access, transition and equity programs for over 7 years.

Dr Bennett is on the Editorial board of the Q1 journal Teaching in Higher Education, has produced 73 publications, scholarly papers and media in the field, and is an executive member of the National Association of Enabling Educators Australia (NAEEA). She is committed to contributing to the development of colleagues across the sector as NAEEA Research Development Special Interest Group and national writing programme co-facilitator.

Professor Sharron King
Dean of Programs, UniSA College
University of South Australia

Professor Sharron King (PhD) is the Dean of Programs (UniSA College): Education Futures at the University of South Australia with a long history of senior leadership, research and innovation in improving educational outcomes for both academic staff and students. Her research interests focus primarily on students’ transition to university, as well as student health and well-being and widening access to university for students who face educational disadvantage. In 2021 she was the CI on a NCSEHE funded grant investigating the key barriers inhibiting regional students from undertaking higher education.

Previous grants include a National Priority Pool grant to enhance the academic success and wellbeing of regional students and a NCSEHE grant exploring first-in-family students experience at university. Outcomes from these collaborative projects include resources have led to changes in the ways that universities support students’ transition to university. Resources such as the information guides for both regional and first in family students and their families on what to expect at university, along with guidelines for academics and support staff on how best to support non-traditional students entering university have helped to improve the retention, success and wellbeing of commencing students.

Professor Karen Nelson 

Karen commenced at UniSQ in February 2019 in the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). In January 2022, Karen was appointed to the position of Provost. Prior to joining UniSQ, she was Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and in this role she was responsible for transforming USC’s approach to student learning engagement, success and retention. Previously, Professor Nelson was Director of Student Success and Retention, and Director of First Year Experience and held a series of traditional faculty-based academic roles at the Queensland University of Technology.

A recognised authority in student engagement and retention and first-year experience, Professor Nelson’s research into the complex nature of the student experience has been instrumental in uncovering the factors influencing attrition and has advanced policy and practice nationally and internationally. Her contributions to higher education have been recognised by three national awards and in 2016 she was made Principal Fellow of the UK based Higher Education Academy.

Professor Nelson is the chief editor of Student Success, an open access journal exploring the experiences of students in tertiary education. She has been a member of the organising committee, Chair or Co-chair of the annual Students, Transitions, Achievement, Retention & Success (STARS) Conference (and its predecessor FYHE conferences) for more than 12 years. Professor Nelson also serves the sector as an external expert for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Professor Thomas Roche
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Quality) & Dean SCU College
Southern Cross University

Thomas leads the University’s strategic initiatives relating to the enhancement of education quality. He ensures that the University delivers an inspired experience supporting students reach their potential. As Dean, SCU College he leads staff in providing pathway and cross curriculum academic support for the University’s students. The College provides University admission to applicants who do not meet standard entry requirements and are often from identified equity groups (e.g., low socio-economic status, regional and remote students) and international students on English for Academic Purposes pathways. He is a specialist in the design, delivery and management of higher education courses and pathways, empowering students to gain access to and succeed in university study. His primary research interests are in applied linguistics (Academic Literacies, English for Academic Purposes) and curriculum design. For more information visit:

President NAEEA, Karen Seary
Associate Dean, School of Access Education
Central Queensland University

Karen Seary is the Associate Dean, School of Access Education at CQUniversity. The School hosts CQUniversity’s Enabling course, the Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS) and the academic learning support services offered to higher education and vocational education students by the Academic Learning Centre and the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Centre. Karen’s research interests centre on adult education, transformative learning and transition pedagogy.

Karen was recently recognised as a national champion for change by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and Equity Partners in Higher Education Australasia (EPHEA), as part of the World Access to Higher Education Day (WAHED). This award recognises and celebrates the life changing work of student equity practitioners across the world in supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, into and through higher education. Karen holds a Diploma of Teaching (Secondary), Bachelor of Education and Master of Education (Guidance and Counselling). Karen is currently the Chair of the National Association of Enabling Educators Australia (NAEEA).