Widening Participation to University – Aussie style

By: Samantha Avitaia – Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus

In the Bega Valley on the south-east coast of Australia, less than 15% of people have a University qualification as opposed to 42% in major Australian cities (ABS Census data 2016).

Since 2011, the Outreach and Pathways Unit at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia has worked in partnership with the Department of Education (DoE) NSW, the Catholic Education Office (CEO) in Wollongong, Canberra and Goulburn and local school partners to ensure that individuals from our local community, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to access higher education. Our work is enriched through these partnerships and through engagement with individuals in schools and communities, enabling us to effectively implement age appropriate activities to build their awareness of higher education and develop children’s skills and knowledge to help them gain entry.

The UOW regional campus in Bega NSW is a very small rural university campus with under 200 students enrolled and a student body made up largely of non-“traditional” students including low socio-economic background, Indigenous, mature-age and students who are also family carers.

Despite, or perhaps rather because of these challenges, our little campus manages to run school outreach programs with over 1600 students per year in our rural areas to encourage participation in Higher Education. Ranging from Primary School Year 6 students to those in their final Years of High School, all of our programs are mentor led by current rural university students, sharing their challenges, fears and joys about Higher Education to those who attended the same schools.

We also host free purpose-built bridging programs alongside vocational education providers to encourage mature-age students to continue their vocational education onto university.

Our programs include:

Year 6 In2Uni

Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus day at their local UOW campus, the Kids In2Uni Program aims to help students begin building a positive and lasting connection with university. Students and parents participate in taster sessions, run by UOW faculties, career discovery activities, and toured the campus with current university mentors. This program introduces Year 6 students to the idea of higher education beyond school and starts conversations about their future career paths and options.
Year 6 students engaged with In2Uni activities.
Year 6 Kids In2Uni

Year 8 Future Me

Delivered in schools by In2Uni Mentors, the three-hour workshops consist of students being introduced to the language of higher education, and recognising the links between their own interests, curriculum and study options after high school that could lead to potential careers.The workshops culminate in students developing short and long-term goals for their academic study, and they were provided with a suite of additional resources to utilise throughout their high school progression.

Year 8 students in the Future Me program pose for a group photo.
Year 8 Future Me

Year 10 Future Finder

Through a range of higher education taster sessions (including university and vocational options), and participation in goal setting activities, students gained a taste of what it is like to engage in post-school study and explore potential future careers. Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus event day for Year 10 students, the Future Finder Program is designed to help better inform students during their senior high school subject decision process.
Year 10 students engage in vocation/career exploration activities
Year 10 Future Finder

Year 11 HSC (Higher School Certificate) Bootcamps

This program was designed to give students an insight into the HSC and help to prepare them for their senior studies. The program was delivered by current university students who have recently completed and been successful in their HSC, and who have previously attended a local high school. The program focuses on tips for approaching the HSC, soft study skills and what students could expect over the coming 18 months. The topics covered in the workshop included exam preparation, goal setting, decision making, note taking, and how to build a positive learner identity.

Year 11 Higher School Certificate (HSC) Bootcamp participants.
Year 11 HSC Bootcamp participants

Indigenous Careers Program

This is a collaborative program run by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students from university, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Vocational Education and AIME (the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience). Aimed at providing personalised career and education pathway advice and support to local Indigenous students, information and support includes; Career exploration, TAFE and University entry options and scholarship information, apprenticeship and traineeship advice. Indigenous presenters from local industries are also invited to share their career stories and progression. The program is interwoven with personal stories and artwork.

Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.
Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.

Year 12 University Preparation Program

Run over two school terms, the University Preparation Program (UPP) provides Year 12 students with the opportunity to improve their HSC study skills through tailored study sessions with trained In2Uni mentors. Students who participated in the UPP attend on-campus study centres each week for 90 minutes. During these sessions, students receive transition advice, support in applying for Early Admissions at UOW, and discuss post-high school options. Designed for students who are unclear about their higher education pathway, the UPP aims to give students a taste of what university life is like, and support their aspirations as they consider their career pathways.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.

Pathways to Higher Education

The Pathways to Higher Education Program aims to increase the awareness of pathways options and attainment of individuals to access higher education. Designed to improve the participation of low SES, mature-aged, and Indigenous people in higher education, particularly targeting non-school leavers, the Pathways to Higher Education Program provides an opportunity for individuals to increase their employment outcomes by offering them tangible information, opportunities and pathways to access higher education.This is achieved through: Building awareness and opportunities to access pathways to higher education through Vocational qualifications; Providing access to sponsorship; and Offering a Bridging Program to assist students’ transition to higher education.

Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.
Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.

Gaming to Uni

I first met Tricia Seifert at the 2018 ISFIRE – International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education in Montana and was immediately taken by the Success Prints Crash Course board game as a fabulous tool for demystifying university for school and first-year university students alike. Despite our geographical and cultural differences, we are doing very similar work on opposite sides of the globe.

We have formed a connection along with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and are now testing the game in our rural locations, contextualizing the play and scenarios in partnership with our students. I am very excited to be working on this project and look forward to seeing what the Australian version of Success Prints Crash Course becomes and how it complements our widening participation efforts.

Samantha Avitaia is the Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus.

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