Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Closing the gap through Bridges to Higher Education (#70)

Sonal Singh 1 , Alan Beckley 2 , Clare Netherton 3
  1. Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, Australia
  2. University of Western Sydney , Penrith , NSW, Australia
  3. University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo , NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Over the past two decades, despite large increases in overall access to higher education, the gap in the level of participation between the most affluent and most disadvantaged students has remained intact and it has issues which have strong implications for education policy, economic efficiency and social justice. In order to redress the imbalance in the uptake of places in higher education Bridges to Higher Education encompasses 88 projects including student mentoring initiatives, summer schools, tutoring and preparatory programs, virtual academic lectures and community engagement programs. This article evaluated the effectiveness of those 88 programs and their impact on student access and participation in higher education. Data was collected using a mixed method approach with reporting templates collected by the five universities in the collaboration, three focus groups with school students, parents and teacher and stakeholder interviews. Data was analysed by KPMG as external evaluators using SPSS and NVivo. Four themes were identified as the evidence of impact of the collaboration: improving students' academic preparedness and outcomes, increasing students' awareness, confidence and motivation towards higher education, building school and community capacity and increasing capacity to access higher education. Positive student performance in schools and a changing school culture towards higher education was also seen. This evidence suggests that targeting disadvantaged students when implementing policies towards learning in higher education is necessary to avoid widening the gap in the higher education system in Australia.   The results highlight the importance of considering education as a lifelong process with multiple pathways into and out of higher education.  Realising this potential through University Collaboration can bring many benefits.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This article addresses the conference theme: Navigating uncertainty and complexity. It provides some solutions to the key question: How can we engage effectively with diverse communities?

Commencing two-years-ago, Bridges to Higher Education is a collaborative project involving five universities working with primary and secondary schools, TAFE and community partners in Greater Western Sydney.  Bridges programs have engaged with schools and TAFEs in Greater Western Sydney and rural areas, achieving interactions with over 143,000 students, over 12,000 parents and carers, and over 8,500 teachers. Some strategies used were two television series featuring 30 inspiring stories from determined Australians pursuing a career through higher education (models of achievement) and  a video series that takes students and their teachers on virtual visits to university lectures and puts them in touch with university researchers, academics and industry professionals (virtual classroom). Also resources for parents and Make Your Mark website were created. This article clearly demonstrates the need to engage with diverse communities to enhance their access and participation in higher education.

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