Enhancing Higher Education Opportunities for Educationally Disadvantaged Secondary Students: a Cross-Sectoral Partnership

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Enhancing Higher Education Opportunities for Educationally Disadvantaged Secondary Students: a cross-sectoral partnership Deborah Tranter Senior Project Officer: Equity University of South Australia Abstract: For many students from low socio-economic backgrounds, university is an alien and inaccessible notion, as far removed from them conceptually as it often is geographically. It is becoming increasingly difficult for students from the most disadvantaged regions of Australia to bridge the divide and gain admission to higher education. This paper will discuss a range of initiatives developed by the University of South Australia, in collaboration with the S. A. Education Department, to help increase the access of students from disadvantaged schools. These initiatives include: USANET: an outreach and access scheme for year 12 students from schools designated as disadvantaged by the Education Department. UniSA-PAL: a preparatory program coordinated and moderated by UniSA staff but taught to adult year 12 students by Education Department staff at five adult secondary colleges in Adelaide. Portfolio Entry: a trial alternative entry scheme for year 12 students (both continuing and adult reentry) from13 of the most educationally disadvantaged schools in the state University Orientation Program/peer mentoring: an initiative which combines a semester-length elective subject on peer mentoring for UniSA students with an ‘introduction to university’ option for year 11 students from the socio-economically disadvantaged northern suburbs of Adelaide. The paper will draw on research undertaken as part of my doctoral studies into the influence of the school environment on students’ aspirations to higher education as well as evaluations undertaken of the initiatives above and research undertaken elsewhere. Introduction The University of South Australia has a well-established commitment to equity and a national reputation for innovative practices in the area. In particular, the University is concerned about increasing the higher education participation rates of people from the northern suburbs of Adelaide, a region with the third lowest participation rates in the country (Stevenson, Maclachlan and Karmel, 1999). This paper aims to share information about a number of strategies the University has developed in collaboration with the SA Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) which focus on increasing university participation rates for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and the northern suburbs in particular. Low Socio-economic Participation The benefits of higher education to the individual have been well documented in terms of increased employment rates, higher average salaries, increased social status and overall economic security (Anderson and Vervoorn, 1983; Williams et al, 1993; James et al, 1999; Borland, 2002). In addition, the overall benefit to Australia’s social fabric of increased participation in higher education has been acknowledged by policy developers for some years (Dawkins, 1988, NBEET/HEC, 1996, Nelson, 2002). A diverse higher education student population has broader outcomes with society ‘… more economically and culturally productive because (they) use and extend the talents of all’ (Nunan,

George & McCausland 2000a: 86). Nevertheless, in Australia today we see a significant disparity in higher education participation, very much determined by who one’s parents are, where one lives and where one goes to school. Young people from low socio-economic backgrounds have about half as much chance, on average, of completing school, proceeding to university or TAFE, and graduating with a degree or diploma, as those from backgrounds of high socio-economic status (DETYA, 1999; James 2002). In the northern suburbs of Adelaide, however, we have amongst the lowest rates of higher education participation in Australia (Stevenson, Maclachlan and Karmel, 1999). As the table below indicates, people living in...
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