Curtin University – Addressing Higher Education Access Disadvantage (AHEAD)
The Curtin Addressing Higher Education Access Disadvantage (AHEAD) program aims to provide pre-tertiary learning experiences and resources, in collaboration with school and community partners, that facilitate student learning in low socioeconomic status (SES) school and community groups to overcome the challenges to participation in higher education.
AHEAD works with low SES K–12 schools and community groups in three distinct clusters: metro; regional; and remote. AHEAD also partners with organisations that share similar mandates to provide exemplary aspiration-focused learning experiences for people from low SES backgrounds, and to contribute to the development of best practice widening participation initiatives.
AHEAD collaborates with over 80 external school and community groups, as well as local governments, including: Role Models and Leaders Australia; Follow the Dream (the Graham Farmer Foundation); the Department of Corrective Services; Boronia Pre-Release Centre for Women; Women in Leadership Driving Change (WILD’C); Ruah Community Services; The Smith Family; YourTutor; Acacia Prison; and Future Footprints.
AHEAD focuses on creating and facilitating career development and university readiness learning experiences, designed to raise aspirations and strengthen capability for higher education. With the aim of increasing participation of underrepresented individuals and groups, AHEAD experiences are designed to increase confidence and capacity to make informed choices; expose people to new and enhanced opportunities; and change perceptions and attitudes about higher education. AHEAD is a collaborative and innovative outreach hub that develops the potential of promising underrepresented higher education students. The program harnesses university services and facilities to create unique learning experiences that foster tertiary interest.
Activities and Progress
AHEAD was formed in 2014 by bringing together the platforms and early lessons from several outreach initiatives that focused on secondary school tutoring and tertiary awareness workshops funded through the HEPPP.
Originally a school-focused program, the suite of AHEAD learning opportunities has expanded to include design solutions to educational challenges impacting young people in their communities, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people seeking education while incarcerated.
AHEAD activities include: in-school, in-community and in-prison workshops; on-campus learning experiences; mentoring; support groups; participation at community events; aspiration through sport; Row AHEAD — introduction to university rowing with current university student mentors (Clontarf Aboriginal College); university aspiration camps; and AHEAD with Confidence (regional Year 12 one-week camps).
AHEAD has achieved significant growth in demand for its services, which has enabled collaboration with more than 60 schools, increased from 11 in 2010. AHEAD participants have grown from 1,000 in 2010 to over 4,000 in 2016. Over the years, AHEAD has developed engagement strategies to foster progressive learning experiences that build the knowledge and confidence that empowers students and community participants to enter higher education.
AHEAD’s successful outcomes are represented by strong partnerships, which enable it to engage with and support over 4,000 low SES school and community members a year. Since 2014, AHEAD has supported 1,041 students into university, and 41 prison residents through the Curtin UniReady program, of which 10 have transitioned into university. As AHEAD develops, it is able to work closely with many different areas of the university to create comprehensive and innovative support mechanisms for potential higher education students from low SES backgrounds. Since 2012, 1,678 AHEAD students have applied for university.
AHEAD, funded primarily through the HEPPP, is strongly supported by Curtin University. Its achievements have been recognised and celebrated, having recently won the Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award for Professional Staff in 2016 for Engagement and Collaboration. AHEAD is situated within the Learning Futures directorate, as part of Curtin Learning and Teaching. Learning Futures develops innovative learning strategies, promotes talent development for high potential students and builds strategic partnerships. The inclusion of AHEAD within Learning Futures is fostering the development of new opportunities for AHEAD participants, including blended learning opportunities, processes for validating and rewarding AHEAD student achievement, and documenting evidence of learning through innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship activities.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.