Universities join forces to widen higher education participation

Five Sydney-based universities are set to work together to increase the numbers of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in higher education, with the announcement of $21.2 million in Federal Government funding over four years for the Bridges to Higher Education project.

Bridges to Higher Education is a unique collaboration bringing together the collective resources and experience of the University of Western Sydney, The University of Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, Macquarie University, and Australian Catholic University. UWS is the lead university on the project.

The funding comes from a $150 million Commonwealth initiative aimed to get universities working collaboratively to address the decade long challenge of increasing the numbers and proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in higher education.

The programs that will come under the Bridges to Higher Education banner are particularly focussed on the growing population of Greater Western Sydney - home to over 1.8 million people - and traditionally under-represented in higher education participation rates.

A comprehensive suite of programs aimed at widening participation already in operation at the five universities will be significantly broadened and deepened as a result of the four-year project. These include:

  • University of Western Sydney's expansive Schools Engagement program, including the Fast Forward and Indigenous School Student Mentoring programs
  • Macquarie University's LEAP program
  • The University of Sydney's Compass program
  • University of Technology, Sydney's U@Uni program
  • Australian Catholic University's ACUgate program

In a joint statement, the Vice-Chancellors of the five universities - Professor Janice Reid, Dr Michael Spence, Professor Ross Milbourne, Professor Steven Schwartz, and Professor Greg Craven - welcomed the announcement of the funding and the collaboration.

"There has been a continued under-representation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in Australian higher education, despite an overall expansion of access to higher education during the last 15 years," they said.

"We believe that everyone with the ability and drive to succeed should have the opportunity to study at university, because higher education has the power to transform lives.

"This partnership recognises that a collaborative and coordinated approach between universities that draws on the institutions' strengths is needed if we are to make a real difference in increasing the numbers of Australians participating in higher education, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds."

Bridges to Higher Education will draw on the five universities' existing partnerships with significant education, government and non-government organisations, including the NSW Department of Education and Communities, TAFE NSW, Universities Admissions Centre (UAC), AFL NSW/ACT, The Smith Family, and Tutoring Australasia.

It will also develop new, innovative and integrated programs that draw on academic strengths of the respective partners, maximising the use of the virtual environment through activities such as virtual visits and connected classrooms, community TV programs, and other web-based and online initiatives.


14 December 2011

Contact: Amanda Whibley, Manager Media and Public Relations