Creating bridges to higher education

3 August 2012

Senator Chris Evans (top left) at Fairfield High School where he launched the 'Bridges to Higher Education' project.
Senator Chris Evans (top left) at Fairfield High School where he launched the 'Bridges to Higher Education' project.

The University of Sydney has teamed up with four other NSW universities in a bold $21 million initiative designed to reach more than 100,000 school students and boost higher education participation rates for low-socioeconomic status communities.

The Bridges to Higher Education project was launched by Senator Chris Evans, Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, at Fairfield High School yesterday.

The four-year project will work with primary and secondary schools and community partners in Greater Western Sydney to engage young people who previously might not have considered higher education as an option.

More than 1.8 million people live in the region, which has traditionally been underrepresented in higher education participation rates.

Bridges to Higher Education brings together the collective resources and experience of the widening participation, equity and social inclusion programs at the University of Sydney, the University of Western Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University and the Australian Catholic University.

"The University is proud to be involved in this program with other Sydney-based institutions," said the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney Dr Michael Spence.

"For the University of Sydney, the Bridges to Higher Education program sits alongside our strategies to increase the diversity of the student cohort, such as our new Early Offer Year 12 scheme (E12) and Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy."

"It was a real privilege to visit one of the University's partner schools, Fairfield High School, as part of the launch and spend time with the young people studying there. They were an inspiring and engaging group, and I hope to see some of them at our university in the near future," Dr Spence said.

The program will also draw on the existing partnerships the five universities have with significant education, government and non-government organisations including the NSW Department of Education and Communities, TAFE NSW, Universities Admissions Centre, AFL NSW/ACT, The Smith Family, and Tutoring Australasia.

Senator Evans announced the project in front of an audience of more than 300 higher education providers, partners, community stakeholders, parents and school students from Fairfield Public School and Fairfield High School.

"In order to achieve greater national productivity as well as build greater social equity, Australia must break down the barriers to lower representation in higher education of people with low SES backgrounds," said Senator Evans.

"We have invested an unprecedented $1 billion over the next four years to profoundly change the landscape of higher education in terms of inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility.

"The Australian Government is committed to building a stronger, fairer nation and more accessible higher education is integral to achieving our goal," said Senator Evans.

The Bridges to Higher Education project has been funded with $21.2 million from the Commonwealth Government's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships program - the highest level of funding for a project in the $150 million national low SES support scheme. The Bridges to Higher Education project will also receive contributions from the five collaborating universities and other partners.

Using the combined resources of the universities and their partners the project aims to improve academic outcomes by improving student's abilities in reading, writing and numeracy as well as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Other programs such as visits to university campuses, summer schools, mentoring and work experience are designed to raise awareness and improve aspirations. The project will also work with teachers, careers advisors, community liaison officers and Aboriginal education officers, providing training and professional development.

The initiative will also develop new and integrated programs that draw on academic strengths of the respective partners, maximising the use of the virtual environment through activities such as virtual visits and connected classrooms, community TV programs, and other web-based and online initiatives.

"The Bridges to Higher Education funding will allow us to continue and expand our Compass - Find your way to higher education program, reaching more primary and high school students, their parents and families until the end of 2014. It will also help us to develop new programs with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, their families and teachers," said Annette Cairnduff, Director of Social Inclusion at the University of Sydney.

"Our widening participation programs aim to support students and families to know about their options and support their academic achievement so that they can make informed choices about their futures. We want every child with the ability and motivation to undertake higher education to know it is a real option for them if they want it," she said.

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