On its foundation, in 1852, the University of Sydney broke with the traditions of Universities in the northern hemisphere and admitted students based on academic merit and not their religion or social class. The University’s early founders proclaimed that Sydney offered the opportunity "to the child of every class to become great and useful in the destinies of his country."
People from low socio-economic backgrounds, however, continue to be significantly underrepresented in Australian higher education. Nevertheless, students from disadvantaged backgrounds that do enrol at university have similar patterns of retention and success as those from other backgrounds.
Research shows barriers to tertiary study include low levels of academic achievement and aspiration, and low secondary school completion rates. There is considerable evidence that aspirations are formed early in life, and that family experience of higher education is a key factor in influencing attitudes.
As part of the University's commitment to educating the most promising students regardless of their social or cultural background, Sydney is determined to widen the participation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in higher education.
Recently the University has:
- Organised events and activities through the Compass program to promote attainment of and aspiration for University education in low socio-economic communities. Compass is a University supported initiative that helps primary school students pursue higher education through outreach, mentoring and professional development programs.
- Continued our partnership with the Smith Family in the Learning for Life program, providing high school students and their families with financial, personal and mentoring support to help them get a quality education and prevent future hardship. Last year over 126,000 students received help through Learning for Life.
- Celebrated the 16th year of the Science Alliance, a program that offers exciting, educational activities to primary and high school students while promoting an interest in science in the community through events like the Sydney Science Forum. These forums bring in leaders in their field to speak on their area of expertise, providing free and engaging food for thought.
- Continued support of the Refugee Language Program, created in 2004 to offer free language tuition to refugees. Many of the refugee students are either ineligible to attend Government sponsored English classes or suffer economic hardship. Through the volunteer efforts of our students and academic staff, we have helped to alleviate, in some measure, the dislocation and isolation suffered by these refugees.
- Continued our commitment to encouraging and supporting Indigenous Australians in gaining access to and participating in programs across the whole of the University. The Koori Centre provides programs, services and facilities to encourage and support the involvement of Indigenous Australians in all aspects of tertiary education at the University of Sydney. The Centre provides tutorial assistance, access to computers, an Indigenous Research Library, study space and assistance in study and learning skills.