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Students participating in university widening participation program

Widening access to university

Valuing social inclusion and student equity
We work with students from a low socio-economic background, rural, regional and remote areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds to encourage participation in higher education.

We offer an extensive pre-tertiary educational outreach program to build academic and cultural capacity, and we advocate for more inclusive equity related policy, admissions pathways and inclusive practices that helpfully support increased higher education access for the students, schools and communities we work with.

What we do

We are committed to innovative, strategic initiatives that extend the depth and impact of our program. This allows us to be responsive to changes in educational contexts and new opportunities to work with young people, their schools and communities. 

  • Leading the development and direction of a Widening Participation Strategy (pdf, 1MB) for the University.
  • Advocating for more inclusive equity related policy, pathways and practices at the University of Sydney and through broader sector-wide engagement and collaboration, leading to the development of the 2019 Access and Participation Plan (pdf, 70.4KB).
  • We advocate for improved admissions pathways for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and the support available for those students once they are at the University Sydney.
  • Identifying and positively impacting broader equity cohorts such as First in Family students enrolled at the University.
  • Collaborating extensively with faculties and schools to expose potential students to faculty experiences across multiple streams of activity and inquiry as part of our on-campus educational program.
  • Collaborating with our Education Portfolio to establish grants for academics to support widening participation and student equity-related research opportunities and projects, with the intention to grow the research base to inform policy and practice.
  • Coordinating a university-wide Widening Participation Network (WPN) to bring interested researchers and practitioners together as a community of practice to inform and extend expertise around social inclusion initiatives and opportunities.
  • We also sponsor several large community-focused events to expand our reach: 2017 Gillawarna Festival for primary schools in Western Sydney, 2017 Mungo Youth Project and the 2018 Country Education Foundation (CEF) Scholarship Guide.

Here are some of the practical ways we’ve helped students access higher education and succeed in their studies.

2018–2020 Longitudinal Evaluation Project

We developed a Theory of Change and a new evaluation framework that includes the collection and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data from external sources such as school NAPLAN results, median ATAR shifts, HSC subject selection choices and numbers of students engaged in ATAR pathways.

We sought to analyse new ways to report on the medium and longer-term impacts of our program and engaged the Centre for Social Impact at UNSW and a research team through the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

The research team is led by Dr Samantha McMahon and consists of The University of Sydney, Sydney School of Education and Social Work:

Reinvigorating the Wingara-Mura pre-tertiary outreach program

We have developed two new strategic initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This included our regional hub expansion project to four regions, and STEMex enrichment program. We also continue to expand our reach to EAS schools in Western Sydney through establishing geographical hubs in Mount Druitt/Blacktown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Bankstown and Campbelltown and partnerships with LGA libraries in these areas.

Partnering with Western Sydney University

We conducted research into how universities identify students from low socio-economic backgrounds so they can be better supported as part of a National Priority Pool (NPP) grant from the Commonwealth Government under HEPPP. This research will help universities understand their students' needs better, and therefore inform programs that address these needs more accurately.

Seeking new ways of documenting the impact of our program and capturing the parts that happen incidentally, or are difficult to survey

This led to a longitudinal documentary titled 'Our Time', to trace the life decisions and educational journey of nine young Aboriginal and Torres Islander students who have been part of Wingara Mura over a period of three-to-four years.

  • 'Reinventing the Gap Year: Establishing new forms of supportive communications between universities, regional students and parents': This project is led by Dr Samantha McMahon and a collaboration between the University of Sydney and NSW Department of Education. It is funded by a competitive grant from the New South Wales Department of Education.
  • EPHEA Showcase Presentation: WPO Theory of Change: how is it working as a longitudinal evaluation research framework
  • EPHEA Showcase Presentation: Making a difference to regional students’ gap-year decision making
  • 'Individual-based socio-economic disadvantage measure': This project is a National Priority Pool Commissioned research conducted by the University of Sydney in partnership with Western Sydney University.
Research opportunities

Are you a University of Sydney academic and want to find out more? Learn more about the research opportunities and ways of being involved at the University of Sydney. 

If you are not an academic at the University of Sydney, but would like more information about our research work, please contact us at

Our programs

Our partners

Our vision of enabling underrepresented students to access higher education would not be possible without the in-community support of our partners. 

Our partners are integral to what we do, giving us the opportunity to extend and sustain our reach and engagement with students, schools and their families. 

Interested? Make a partnership enquiry.

The Smith Family

The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program provides students with academic coaching and wrap around family support to help them complete their high school journeys and transition to University. We have been working with The Smith Family since 2004 and each year we have collectively supported a number of Learning for Life recipients to access the University of Sydney.

Education & Training Out West

Dubbo-based Education & Training Out West supports regional students to complete their high school studies and transition into higher education, especially those who have taken a gap year and/or have become disengaged from learning. The partnership allows us to connect with and support regional students who have identified a desire to enrol at the University of Sydney, through the provision of residential on-campus experiences and workshops that focus on areas including literacy, academic writing and team building.

Country Education Foundation

The Country Education Foundation supports students in regional, remote and rural Australia achieve their dreams through supported access to further education, training and jobs.

The Seymour Centre

Based on the University of Sydney campus, the Seymour Centre's Arts Education Program strives to build engagement through theatre that reveals and investigates contemporary discourse. Students can access live performances of key texts that are part of the K-12 curriculum and enhance their understanding of theatre.

Story Factory 

Story Factory facilitates creative writing and storytelling workshops for young people aged 7 to 17. We partner with them as part of our school literacy development program to promote creative writing, literacy and English-specific subject skills.

Sydney Writer's Festival

We have partnered with the Sydney Writers' Festival to provide opportunties for our students to attend the various workshops and activities offered at the festival.

Western Sydney University

We are project partners on an individual-based socio-economic disadvantage measure, commissioned under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) National Priorities Pool.

To learn more about the schools we partner with, visit our primary school programs and high school programs pages.