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Australian Catholic University – ACUgate

ACUgate is a suite of 16 programs offered by Australian Catholic University (ACU) that span awareness, aspiration raising and access. Of these, the Principal’s Recommendation Program (PRP) and Education Reconnect (ER) focus on university access.

ACU has in excess of 200 secondary partner schools in Australia that are considered low SES. The PRP seeks to offer students who have experienced educational disadvantage an opportunity to access a degree course at ACU. Similarly, ER provides opportunities for people without an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), or who have been out of the education system for a long period. Both programs offer opportunities for the future, realised through educational outcomes.


Both programs were created and implemented to assist in pre-tertiary achievement, either at school (PRP) or via an alternative pathway (ER), to enable consideration for access to higher education.

Activities and Progress

The PRP is for Year 12 students from ACU’s low SES partner schools. Principals can recommend eligible students, and students can also self-nominate. The principal’s letter of recommendation outlines the reason for the application, details the student’s suitability, and provides Year 11 and Year 12 academic results.

‘Ben’ was in Year 12 in a low SES suburb of Melbourne. His principal recommended him as a hardworking student who maximised his academic potential and made significant contribution to the communal life of the school.

However, Ben’s home life was challenging with the passing of one family member and the ill health of another. The family relied on Ben’s time and energy, which impacted significantly on his emotional wellbeing, study commitments and ATAR results.

Through the PRP Ben was offered a place in a B. Arts/B. Laws degree course, even though his ATAR was below requirement. He was supported through his first year of study by the Office of Student Success and the Equity Pathways Officer on campus. Ben is now engaged in his third year of study and moving confidently towards a fulfilling career in law.

In contrast, ER targets people who have not achieved an ATAR, or have achieved an ATAR but have been out of the education system for a long period. Applicants submit a curriculum vitae, academic transcripts of any other courses completed, and nominate three referees. ACU’s Equity Pathways Officer interviews the candidate, their preferred faculty is notified and the application is discussed. If it is considered that the candidate is capable enough, a direct entry offer is made.

‘Susan’ became a mother during Year 12, and did not complete the school year. She eventually began work in a not-for-profit community care organisation. Over time she decided to make a future for herself in nursing. Susan contacted ACU’s Equity Pathways office, and fitted the ER criteria. She had well-documented references, interviewed well and showed real enthusiasm. It was suggested that she enter ACU through ACUcom, an ACU TAFE provider offering pathways into degree courses.

Student pull quote

Susan now studies nursing at ACU and will graduate in 2017.


PRP enrolments at ACU have been stable since 2013, with an increasing proportion of students continuing in study beyond their first year at university.

There have been few applicants for ER but it remains part of ACUgate because of the success achieved by the participants to date. It is quietly unique in providing outlier support to students who have come to education ‘after the fact’.

PRP enrolments and continuation at ACU

Sustainable Impacts

ACU is committed to these HEPPP funded ACUgate access programs, and will continue to develop and streamline them into the future. In general, ACUgate provides a platform from which programs like these can be effectively developed and modified to provide for changing times and needs as they arise. Achieving the programs’ objectives requires close monitoring and documentation of participant opinions and progress, to inform more effective implementation and better outcomes.

This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.

Posted 19 March 2018 Posted in General, Low SES