Helping students of promise

13 April 2010

The University of Sydney and The Smith Family have renewed their joint commitment to supporting students of promise, with the University pledging more than a quarter of a million dollars to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students.

Clockwise from top left: Ali Yunespour, Rebecca Sparkes, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence, Elaine Henry
Clockwise from top left: Ali Yunespour, Rebecca Sparkes, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence, Elaine Henry

The two organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work in partnership during 2010-2012 to support disadvantaged children to stay engaged with school, and ultimately have the opportunity to participate in university education.

This is a major aim for both organisations, which has seen a successful alliance between them since 2004 in support of The Smith Family's Learning for Life program.

The Learning for Life program provides financially disadvantaged children with literacy and numeracy support, as well as digital, financial, health and emotional literacy programs so that they can develop skills they need for their life journey.

These programs are enabled through mentoring and tutoring and through a financial scholarship which assists with the costs of essential school expenses.

The program also helps disadvantaged young people make a smooth transition from secondary school into the workplace or tertiary education, with the proportion of students in the program undertaking further education increasing from 21 per cent in 2005 to 50 per cent in 2009.

Identifying students of promise is a major goal for the University of Sydney outlined in its recent Green Paper on future directions. Since its foundation the University has committed to providing educational opportunities on the basis of merit, regardless of social class or financial situation. But the University recognises it could do more to ensure students of promise have an opportunity to study at the University and aspire to do so.

To achieve better results in this area the University is continuing to invest in valuable partnerships with organisations like The Smith Family, as well as considering other ways to identify promising students beyond recognition of high ATAR scores.

"Students from low SES backgrounds are seriously under-represented in Australian higher education so the agreement we are entering into today is an important step forward," University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said at the signing.

The Smith Family CEO Elaine Henry said: "Our partnership with the University will help ensure that more young people are given the step up they need to achieve their goals as adults and ultimately to break the cycle of disadvantage."

First-year University of Sydney student Rebecca Sparkes said at the signing that a family illness and financial worries had always made the prospect of going to university seem too daunting to contemplate. However through a relationship with The Smith Family that began when she was in year six, she began to think it might be possible.

"Adding up all the bills for transport to university, textbooks and everything else there was no way my family could afford to support me doing this if it weren't for this scholarship," said Rebecca, who aspires to being a social worker to help homeless people after her Arts/Social Work degree.

Ali Yunespour, 22 is studying a Bachelor of International Studies at the University of Sydney, majoring in Government and Arabic Studies and says too the support from The Smith Family and the University is invaluable.

Ali came to Australia only five years ago from Afghanistan and is the first in his family to attend university. He has a dream of completing a PHD so he can become an educator.

"The program helped me three ways - financial, networking and making friends," Ali said.

"For me I feel university should no longer be something only for people of advantage - there should be a right to do it in the same way as there is a right to attend high school. That's how important higher education is, I think everyone who wants to do it should be able to and people should explore ways to make that possible."

"Education is how you can change your circumstances in life."

Dr Spence said the University was the first University in Australia to partner with The Smith Family and was thrilled to continue the collaboration with a committed organisation that works tirelessly to provide a better life for Australians who need help.

The three year 2010-2012 partnership commits the University of Sydney to provide $90,000 per annum to support Learning for Life scholarships for secondary school students who meet The Smith Family's eligibility criteria - which must be students of low income families, and families with a commitment to their child's education.

The University will also provide $10,000 pa to support The Smith Family's Bella Learning for Life Workshop, a program of art-making workshops and exhibition tours for Learning for Life students aged between 15 and 18 years old.

The partnership will also include collaborative activities such as CONverge which aims to bring together interest, opportunity and resources in a musical context using voice as the instrument. The two organisations will also host a University Experience Day at the University annually so that students can familiarise themselves with the University environment and hopefully develop an aspiration to attend.

Media inquiries: Sarah Stock,, 0419 278 715.