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The ASPIRE Program

Using multiple data sources, ASPIRE identifies and targets communities most in need


The University of New South Wales (UNSW) ASPIRE program is a multifaceted educational outreach program reaching over 6,000 students every year in 55 partner schools across Sydney and regional NSW. The program aims to address educational disadvantage by widening participation at university by students from LSES backgrounds. It does this by engaging with students from Kindergarten to Year 12. Developed through a learning framework that includes age-appropriate activities in school and on the UNSW campus, ASPIRE works with students longitudinally over a number of years to encourage them to make informed choices about their higher education opportunities.

Students are given multiple opportunities to interact with and experience the university environment from an early age. The use of the learning framework enables the learning to be built upon from year to year, and takes into account key stages of the school curriculum where relevant. The overall ASPIRE program is unique for each school, depending on the context of the school.

Within the primary and early high school years the program works with all students. From Year 9 onwards the program may work with groups of students identified by the school as needing additional support to form their goals or meet their goals of entering higher education.

Engagement with the wider local community, particularly parents, is also part of the overall ASPIRE strategy. The whole community approach to engage with students, and with their wider networks, is designed to build sustainable capital.

ASPIRE aims to:

  1. raise the awareness and aspirations of students to participate in higher education
  2. assist in raising the academic attainment of students
  3. assist students to make informed decisions on progression to higher education, and
  4. address some of the barriers that prevent students from accessing higher education.

Using multiple data sources, ASPIRE identifies and targets communities most in need. This ensures a focus on the espoused aims. This in turn supports the social inclusion agenda of the government, specifically the access target for students from low socioeconomic areas.

HEPPP Funding
ASPIRE is currently supported by HEPPP partnership funds (baseline and competitive bid). It also receives funding from the Citi Foundation and support from UNSW.

An evaluation framework using qualitative and quantitative measures has been set up to gauge the impact of ASPIRE. Results so far include:

  • an overall decline in negative attitudes to higher education over time, indicating the cumulative effect of ASPIRE
  • an overall increase in offers to university from ASPIRE schools which is greater than the increase for a comparable group of schools not engaged in ASPIRE, and
  • schools with high levels of engagement in the program show a higher percentage increase in offers to university than schools with low levels of engagement.

The whole community approach to engage with students, and also with their wider networks, is designed to build sustainable capital.

The Future
For many partner schools ASPIRE represents the first time they have worked closely with a university. To carry on major aspects of the work if current funding sources cease, ASPIRE aims to build ongoing resources for schools to use in the future. These resources will be linked to key stages within the school curriculum.

Illustration of three circles, each labelled as either outreach, access, or support, with the outreach and access circles filled with colour

This case study is one of a series of 39 presented in our case study publication, Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach – Access – Support.

Posted 31 January 2014 Posted in General, Low SES