Group of high school students wearing graduation caps in front of the Quadrangle building.

Year 12 Indigenous students taste uni as they prepare for exams

18 July 2023
Tahgara (winter) program for high school students
The University of Sydney recently welcomed around 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students from around Australia to help them prepare for exams, experience campus life and explore university pathways.
Deborah Cheetham Fraillon standing in front of a group of high school students in an auditorium.

Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon with Indigenous high school students from around Australia.  Photo: Billy Rokos

Year 12 students from across the country took part in a five-day program (10 to 14 July) at the University of Sydney designed to build their educational confidence and motivation and prepare for university. The Tahgara (winter) residential program is part of the University’s commitment to increase the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education. This year’s program attracted the highest number of students since it began in 2014. 

During the week students attended workshops to guide them through exam preparation, scholarship applications and university pathways, and experienced one-on-one tutoring in their chosen subjects. Students also received advice and support for managing their time and wellbeing and built new connections through social and cultural activities.

A highlight of the week was hearing from Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon, renowned Indigenous soprano/composer and Sydney Conservatorium of Music Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies. Professor Cheetham Fraillon challenged students to imagine their adult selves and bring that ambition to university.

“Imagine what the adult version of you could be. How will you influence the life of others? How will you make the world that you live in better? Imagine your adult self as being someone of value in the community, to your family, to those you love, to the person in the street you meet for the first time. Imagine your adult selves at the University of Sydney.”

Improving accessibility to university

“We were delighted to have high school students from around the country on campus, which stands on lands that have been a place of knowledge exchange for tens of thousands of years,” said Professor Jennifer Barrett, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous (Academic).

“It was great to see students get the most out of the week through hands-on support from expert tutors, academics and support staff, and of course to also enjoy themselves, build new friendships and be inspired by a taste of university life.”

The Tahgara and Gadalung (summer) programs form part of the University’s multiple outreach and transition programs to improve accessibility to tertiary education. Other initiatives include the Gadigal early offers program, which saw a 34 percent increase in offers in 2022 compared to 2021. In 2022 the University launched the Extended Bachelors Program, which includes an additional year of study to support Indigenous students who have experienced disrupted educational histories. Students commencing in the extended program this year are automatically awarded the Extended Bachelor Program Scholarship worth up to $20,000 per year. 

The success of such programs has contributed to year-on-year increases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student enrolments at Sydney, up 30 percent from 2019 to 2022. Through the University’s Indigenous strategy, One Sydney, Many People (pdf, 9MB), the University aims to reach population parity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student participation by 2030.

“While the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolling and succeeding at Sydney is increasing, we need to do much more nationally to change the statistics for participation in higher education,” said Professor Barrett.

“Continuing and enhancing our high school outreach and transition programs, entry pathways and scholarship offerings are key to working towards parity across our student community and supporting students to participate in and thrive at university.”

Program alumni now studying at Sydney

As a high school student from the small town of Scone in New South Wales, Tyler Kennedy completed the Tahgara program in 2022 before going on to begin a Bachelor of Design (Interaction Design) this year.

Students Charlie Jackson and Tyler Kennedy in front of the Quadrangle building

Student ambassasdors Charlie Jackson and Tyler Kenney. Photo: Cornel Ozies

“Out of the program I found a new sense of intensity towards my studies leading up the HSC trials and likewise I finally had a goal to aim towards which I could focus on,” Tyler said.

“The most simple advice I could give for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student considering university is to put your best foot forward and spend time exploring the options available to you to lessen the stress of the pre-uni process.”

Third year Bachelor of Science student Charlie Jackson completed the program in 2020 (online during the pandemic). “I knew I wanted to go to Sydney since Year 9 so it really helped my decision and what faculty I wanted to enter, with the reassurance that the Gadigal Centre was there to assist with most things I was worried about.”

Highlights of the week included:

  • Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony
  • Faculty experience excursions:
    • Law: Sydney Children’s Court, Surry Hills
    • Medicine and Health: Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown
    • Science: Veterinary Hospital, Camperdown
    • Arts & Social Sciences: Sydney Film Festival office, The Rocks
  • Opera House / Bangarra performance, and pre-show ‘meet and greet’ with performers
  • Indigenous history and cultural campus tour
  • Indigenous cultural cooking session
  • Graduation ceremony

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