Boosted support for Aboriginal students in critical first year

8 December 2016

From 2017, commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students will be offered guaranteed and subsidised accommodation and a structured peer mentoring program.

A photo of students Holly Kovac and Brieanna Watson

For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, who are often adjusting to both city and academic life, the first year of university can be even more difficult.

From 2017, the University of Sydney will make this challenging first year easier by lifting some of the financial, logistical and social pressures on Aboriginal students with a structured peer mentoring program and guaranteed and subsidised residency in University-owned accommodation.

Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Strategy and Services (DVC-ISS), considers the schemes an investment in the future.

Such practical assistance will ensure the best and brightest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school-leavers from across the country can make decisions about their post-HSC future, without being restricted by financial and other factors due to our city location.
Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)

“As an institution, we’re committed to building opportunity, capability and rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," he said.

“But for many young Aboriginal people, studying at the University of Sydney can seem an impossible dream for a range of reasons – financial, social and geographical.

“While we already provide wide-ranging support, we’re determined to do even more to ensure all our students have the encouragement and backing they need to succeed at university."

Accommodation guarantee for commencing students

From 2017, all commencing full-time Aboriginal school-leaver students will be offered guaranteed residency in University-owned accommodation under our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Accommodation Award.

The University will also subsidise the cost of the rent, to be paid directly to the student’s chosen University-owned accommodation to reduce weekly payments. Bond will be waived, and students will receive a start-up bursary of $1,000 to assist with relocation expenses.

During the first year of their study, these students will have the opportunity to live on campus at the Queen Mary Building or International House. Self-contained and catered options will be available, with spaces in other university-owned residences subject to availability.

Students who take up the offer to reside at Queen Mary will occupy rooms on the same floor to encourage a sense of community, and trained Resident Advisors will be on hand to provide further assistance as required.

Brieanna Watson, who resides at International House and has just completed her first year of a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney, said: “University can be challenging. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, but it allows you to discover who you are and who you want to be, not just what you will do in life.

“I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship so I could live on campus – it would have been really hard to come to Sydney otherwise.

This offer will let new students focus on their studies and other parts of uni life, without the worry about where and how to live in Sydney.
Brieanna Watson, University of Sydney student

“We’re treating this first year as a trial and we’re very open to student feedback; we want to ensure the arrangements work for them,” said Professor Houston.

“Students won’t need to apply to take advantage of this offer. To make it easy as possible, we’ll contact them in the new year to find out their preferences and determine if they want to live on campus.”

Mentoring Our Brothers and Sisters (MOBS)

A photo of students Holly Kovac and Brieanna Watson.

Current students Holly Kovac and Brieanna Watson have volunteered to be peer mentors in 2017. 

MOBS, a structured peer mentoring program, will also be available to all commencing undergraduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from 2017.

The volunteer program will see current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the University share their experiences and provide advice, guidance and support to the new incoming students. MOBS volunteers will receive training in mentoring and student support services before being matched to selected mentees.

MOBS will enhance the experience for first-year students by helping them feel connected and free to enjoy their cultural identities, as well as providing opportunities for the mentors to build leadership capabilities and access training and development programs.
Professor Shane Houston

The University has already received expressions of interest from students keen to become mentors in the program, including Holly Kovac, in her first year of a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience.

“I would love to be a part of the program as it will help Indigenous kids just like me to transition into university easily, by giving them someone to communicate and work with. The leadership and commitment skills that I would gain from the program fulfil my personal goals to better myself in those areas,” said Holly.

Rachel Fergus

Central Media Manager
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