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Bridges to Higher Education

Evidence shows an increase in students’ confidence to challenge expectations relating to their education options


Engaging young people who previously might not have considered higher education as an option, the Bridges to Higher Education program works with schools, TAFE and community partners in Greater Western Sydney. Bridges to Higher Education was funded $21.2 m by the Commonwealth Government’s HEPPP.


  • Australian Catholic University
  • The University of Sydney
  • The University of Technology, Sydney
  • Macquarie University
  • The University of Western Sydney
  • NSW Department of Education and Communities
  • the Universities Admissions Centre (NSW and ACT) Pty Ltd
  • over 250 schools, local government organisations, Indigenous organisations and other community, philanthropic and social enterprise organisations.

The Bridges to Higher Education partnership (Bridges) was formed to:

  • improve academic outcomes
  • increase awareness, confidence and motivation
  • build school and community capacity
  • increase capacity to access higher education.

The Bridges partner universities recognise that they can achieve more to support the schools and communities of Greater Western Sydney working together. The partnership delivers 88 programs across 250 schools, with innovative and evidence-based program delivery. Partners share and develop knowledge and expertise to continually build and improve upon their delivery, providing a comprehensive and better-coordinated engagement strategy.

The 88 Bridges programs span Year 3 to mature age and align to five core outcomes:

  • improving students’ academic preparedness and outcomes
  • increasing students’ awareness, confidence and motivation towards higher education
  • building school and community capacity
  • increasing capacity to access higher education
  • supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Collaborative project groups have driven the development of the ‘Make Your Mark’ website; three inspirational television series: Enquiring Minds, Models of Achievement and Indigenous Models of Achievement; the development of extensive resources for schools and parents, including lesson plans mapped to national curriculum outcomes, cross-matched with the NSW Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards; a video conference series and robotics program providing academic lecturers and professional learning to schools in both metro and rural areas; and a theatre performance program touring metropolitan and rural schools. In addition, the universities have collaborated to map school engagement in widening participation programs, and to develop and implement an evaluation framework incorporating collective indicators to enable common evaluation across the partnership.

By the end of 2013, Bridges programs had engaged with over 269 schools, 143,567 student contacts, 8,595 teacher contacts and 12,225 parent contacts, in addition to the tens of thousands of students, parents and teachers who have viewed the television series.

Bridges programs have had a highly positive effect on students’ readiness to face the academic challenges they are likely to encounter throughout high school and university, with 90 per cent of students stating they feel better prepared for university as a result of Bridges, and 91 per cent of parents and carers reporting they have a better capacity to support their child with their higher education goals.

There is emerging evidence to suggest that Bridges is changing student attitudes towards learning, with 85 per cent of students reporting they have developed better study skills and 96 per cent of participating teachers reporting that participation had helped them expand their teaching practices.

Parent and carer knowledge of higher education options and benefits has increased, with 82 per cent reporting improved knowledge of higher education options. Evidence also shows an increase in students’ confidence to challenge cultural or gender-specific expectations relating to their education options.

Independent consultants contracted to evaluate the Bridges program have highlighted the following benefits derived through collaborative working:

  • Public funds are used in the most effective way while also providing a basis for continued learning and improvement through collective planning, established communities of practice, shared resources and a fundamental shared vision and commitment.
  • There is better coordination of university engagement with schools and students; Bridges has also offered economies of scale in developing tools to engage a range of audiences.
  • The Bridges program provides a vehicle for improving cross-sectoral relationships, creating strong relationships and a parity of esteem between TAFEs and universities while breaking down historical rivalries.
  • Collaboration also offers a capacity to increase Bridges reach, supporting shared understanding of communities that are relatively over or under-serviced by Bridges projects, thereby enabling better use of resources.

Bridges is applying multiple strategies to enable sustainability. Workforce capability development, embedding Bridges activities into school or university practice, creating links to schools and/or university curriculum, developing accessible materials and resources that can be applied in the longer term, and emphasising efforts which promote students’ capacity for independent learning are being trialled across projects.

Each of the university partners have realised the benefits of collaboration and have developed relationships with schools and communities which they are keen to maintain. As HEPPP funding for Bridges comes to a conclusion mid 2015, new forms of collaboration are being explored.

Image depicting four different types of partnerships. Inter-University, Inter-sectoral ...

This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 7 April 2015 Posted in General, Indigenous, Regional, rural and remote