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Children’s University Australia

CU is well-established and recognised as enhancing academic achievement and increasing student ambition


Children’s University Australia (CU) provides extracurricular learning opportunities to children aged 7–14, and volunteering for 15–18 year olds. CU seeks to engage children in learning in its broadest sense and provide the scaffolding to develop self-efficacy, confidence and aspirations. CU is child directed; with each child choosing to be involved, and choosing what they would like to participate in. Although open to all, CU aims to reach children facing disadvantage and is at the forefront in cultivating children’s love of learning and boosting their aspirations.


  • Children’s University Trust UK
  • SA Water
  • South Australian Museum
  • City of Playford
  • Carclew (South Australian youth arts organisation)
  • South Australian Migration Museum
  • Art Gallery of South Australia
  • Adelaide City Council
  • Adelaide Zoo
  • Adelaide Botanic Gardens
  • Adelaide Arcade
  • Adelaide Festival Centre
  • Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
  • Red Cross
  • Rundle Mall Group
  • Sammy D Foundation
  • The University of Adelaide
  • The Other Side of Science
  • The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions
  • Barr Smith Library
  • Confucius Institute (The University of Adelaide)
  • Upside Down Circus.

New partnerships continue to be forged between CU and public learning spaces in the metropolitan and rural area. Links have been forged between CU and many of the facilities within The University of Adelaide. Partnerships have been made with schools across Adelaide and this is expanding into new metropolitan and regional areas.

CU is well-established and recognised as enhancing academic achievement and increasing student ambition. The central aim of CU is simple; offering superior educational experiences for children outside of school. Through CU, children are encouraged to explore and discover new ideas, concepts and experiences via public and restricted (school-based) ‘Learning Destinations’. The model leverages local educational and learning activity providers, including sports clubs, museums, galleries and school clubs. A strong emphasis is placed on acknowledging the value of accessing the wide range of learning experiences and environments in which children engage.

The benefits for students are to extend the learning opportunities beyond school and to assist children in making their own decisions about learning. It allows them to explore and develop new talents and interests and interact with people who have similar interests. CU also offers children the chance to manage and measure their own success through receiving certificates and public recognition.

CU activities take place in Learning Destinations which have been quality assured through the CU accredited Planning for Learning program (developed by The University of Cambridge). This sets out a well-defined and straightforward process of self-evaluation and planning to ensure that the highest level of quality learning is provided in all CU-accredited learning activities. Learning Destinations can range from a museum to a farm to an airport, or even a corporate business, as long as the activity connects with CU learning and has credible links to a university program.

Children are issued with a ‘Passport to Learning’ and ‘e-Passports’ which record their individual learning journey. For every hour of activity, children receive a stamp in their passport. Credits are accumulated, and when they reach the hours needed to graduate from CU, children are awarded certificates at formal graduation ceremonies held in high profile locations, such as Bonython Hall at The University of Adelaide.

Students who participate in the ‘Passport to Volunteering’ can use CU activity towards the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and South Australian Certificate of Education points and can assist with running CU activities, develop leadership skills and graduate attributes.

Evidence from the pilot group showed that children engaged in CU activities had increased school attendance, punctuality, and students’ behaviour showed marked improvement. Leadership at the school commented that:

“participation in Children’s University…has improved student behaviour through; student voice, ownership, a sense of belonging and improved engagement and relationships.”

CU emphasises the value of accessing the wide range of learning experiences and environments in which children engage. Nurturing successful and independent learners is at the forefront of the CU mission; for children to develop resilience, optimism and confidence. Evidence has shown that children who participate in CU become more adaptable learners, and able to make their own choices.

The University of Cambridge’s evaluation of the program shows that participants have better attendance, attainment and achievement in school. The 10 noted measures of success for CU participants are attendance, attainment, achievement, attitudes, adventure, awards, agency, aspiration, adaptability and advocacy.

CU has established strong links with partner schools and the wider community. The foundation for this network is based on CU connecting with partners in meaningful ways to ensure that children have a fun and multifaceted learning experience, whereby each child who participates takes away something unique.

The Learning Destinations recognise that their partnership with CU, while benefiting children’s learning, also provides them access to new markets. CU is also committed to giving teachers professional development opportunities and recognition for their outstanding contributions to their profession.

CU activities are all validated by qualified staff to ensure consistency and a quality learning experience. It is anticipated that in the near future a networking group will be established for Learning Destinations to not only increase their networking opportunities, but also create a community of practice, whereby they can learn from each other. CU works hard to initiate and maintain continuous dialogue with its partners.

Various interstate universities have expressed an interest in expanding CU and recognise that it is a powerful tool for building community engagement and capacity. This is based on evidence provided by educational research, including the Bradley Review (2008) and the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching (2014), Can’t be what you can’t see. The CU community is expanding all the time, with new schools within metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia signing up for 2015. In 2015, CU will also be looking to establish greater links with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and develop partnerships and learning opportunities that are culturally appropriate and engaging for Indigenous children.

Image depicting four types of partnerships. All four types are highlighted.

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

Posted 16 December 2014 Posted in General, Indigenous