Increasing university access for underrepresented students

6 November 2018
Widening Participation and Outreach, the University of Sydney's flagship schools outreach program, launches its 2019 program that provides students and teachers access to opportunities to counteract educational disadvantage.
Mitchell Ha wearing an orange University of Sydney student, teaching school students

University of Sydney student Mitchell Ha is a Student Leader working with Widening Participation and Outreach.

On-campus experiences, capacity-building activities in schools and communities and digital outreach are a priority, particularly supporting secondary school students from Greater Western Sydney and regional NSW. Focused on experiential learning, the program also includes cultural experiences such as attending the Sydney Writers Festival, usually out of reach for students from these areas.

Speaking at the launch at Cabramatta’s Whitlam Library this morning, Member for Fowler Chris Hayes MP said  the University's focus on low socio-economic families was important. 

“Parents know the key to success is to give their children a strong education, because with a strong education from our schools they stand a very good chance of getting into universities," he said.

“Being able to help young people to experience university life, get in to university and make a difference, inspires a community – and the people who are celebrated here are the young people who have gone to university.”

Head of Widening Participation and Outreach Mary Teague said the goal was to increase access to university for young people who are historically underrepresented and provide opportunities that better prepare young people for university.

“It’s not just about getting in to university, it’s about being successful once you’re here, making informed decisions about courses, understanding the academic expectations and assessments, and being able to decode the language of academia,” Ms Teague said.

Offered as an extension of classroom learning linked to the Australian Curriculum and NSW Key Learning Areas, the program is a federal government Higher Education Participation and Partnership initiative that employs a whole-of-school approach including professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders.

Partnerships key to success

“By working in partnership with a range of organisations such as The Smith Family we reach students who will benefit the most from the experiences we offer, support their transition to university and shift their trajectory through educational access," Ms Teague explained.

The University of Sydney has partnered with The Smith Family for nearly 15 years to support students with disadvantaged backgrounds from Western Sydney to stay engaged in their schooling and continue on to tertiary studies.

“Each year we connect students on our Learning for Life program with activities and experiences offered by the University of Sydney to build their aspirations and confidence to participate in higher education,” CEO of The Smith Family Lisa O’Brien said.

Fairfield City Mayor Frank Carbone said Fairfield City Libraries’ partnership with the University was a vital part of the Council’s strategy to support diverse employment opportunities and contribute to  residents’ success in life.

“The University-run Study Centres and Information Evenings already support our young people after school and this initiative furthers the commitment to positively influence young people’s decisions about their future,” he said.

From school student to Student Leader

Current University of Sydney student Mitchell Ha, due to finish his Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education this year, said working for Widening Participation and Outreach has been the highlight of his degree.

“As a Learning for Life Scholarship holder, I have had the privilege of attending the University of Sydney and want all students to have that same opportunity,” Mr Ha said.

“Volunteering and then going on to become a Student Leader, working on similar programs that bought me to uni in the first place, is incredibly rewarding. Working within my community has reinforced my faith in the future of Australia’s education and its youth. It’s exuberating to show students that we are not defined by circumstance and that higher education is an option.”

Rachel Fergus

Central Media Manager

What’s new in 2019?

  • Future Fridays for year 10, 11 and 12 students - immersive learning experiences on campus including Week of Words and STEM Week
  • Mathematics and teacher librarian professional learning opportunities for teachers at partner schools
  • 2018-2020 Longitudinal Evaluation Project continues to evaluate the impact of our core activities to inform and optimise our future widening participation strategies in partner schools
  • Results from our National Priority Pool research grant in collaboration with Western Sydney University - analysing individual-based measures of socio-economic disadvantage to determine how Australian universities may better identify and support students from low SES backgrounds beyond the current geocoding measure - will be released mid-2019.

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