Aspire UWA supports students with academic potential, but facing significant challenges, to achieve their higher education goals
Through formalised partnerships with 21 secondary schools in metropolitan Perth and 31 regional and remote schools across Western Australia, the university and school communities are working together to address traditionally low transfer rates to higher education.
Since commencing with 600 students in 2009, Aspire UWA has grown significantly with over 7,000 students participating in activities in 2013. Hands-on activities, delivered in schools and on campus, immerse middle school students in diverse disciplinary areas and provide insight into the opportunities tertiary studies offer. These messages are reinforced in the later years of high school through study skills, motivational and revision workshops. Residential camps are a significant feature, delivering rich, intensive experiences to over 1,000 metropolitan and regional students since 2009.
Students with an interest in medicine or dentistry receive support through the Choose Medicine Choose Dentistry Rural/Broadway School Leaver Pathways. These programs provide an entry pathway for students from regional and identified metropolitan schools, who are sometimes the first from their school ever to enter into these disciplines.
Specialist support is provided to all Indigenous students by the School of Indigenous Studies’ High School Outreach Program, which offers a wide range of activities aimed specifically at encouraging and supporting these students. Key strengths are the cultural leadership provided by the School of Indigenous Studies’ staff and the strong relationships formed with families, communities and organisations.
Aspire UWA’s objectives are to work in partnership with schools to raise aspirations for higher education by:
- improving the motivation and attainment of students in LSES communities
- encouraging and supporting Indigenous students in culturally appropriate ways
- supporting school staff through professional development workshops and scholarships, and
- engaging parents and the wider community.
Aspire UWA is currently funded by a HEPPP Partnerships Competitive Grant that was awarded in 2011. The program also receives significant in-kind support from The University of Western Australia.
A multi-faceted evaluation strategy demonstrates the impact Aspire UWA is achieving. Findings include:
- enrolment data: analysis of enrolments at WA universities in 2013, when the first cohort of students to participate in the program entered university, shows increased enrolments from Aspire schools to three of the four WA public universities, when overall school leaver enrolments decreased at all bar one university, and
- surveys (with a response rate of 78 per cent yielded very positive results including:
82% of partner schools’ leaders agree that Aspire UWA has increased the motivation of students to attend university
77% agree that they were now more proactive in encouraging their students to consider university as an option.
Participant interviews and focus groups have also provided useful information to refine engagement strategies.
The current grant concludes in 2014 and a sustainability plan is being developed to ensure the program continues at its current level of engagement. Aspire UWA is also investigating the use of online strategies to strengthen the current suite of activities.
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.