Explore Uni – Queensland University of Technology
Explore Uni (EU) is Queensland University of Technology (QUT)’s signature Widening Participation (WP) program. It is a scaffolded program of residential camps and on-campus days immersing school students from low SES backgrounds in experiences that aim to: build aspiration for post-school study by building on students’ pre-existing strengths; shatter myths and misunderstandings about tertiary education; and boost students’ confidence by creating what Gale and Sellar have called ‘cultures of possibility’.
These are essential pre-conditions for informed post-school choices. Key program elements include tertiary student ambassadors sharing their personal narratives, an embedded career development component, and dynamic discipline-related workshops which bring future opportunities to life.
- 36 QUT primary and secondary partner schools
- all six QUT faculties, Oodgeroo Unit, Library and Careers staff
- The Smith Family, notably Learning for Life program staff.
Many students from low SES backgrounds face barriers to tertiary participation due to the effects of intergenerational poverty and racism. Moving from being uninterested to actively interested in tertiary study is a journey, not a single revelatory experience, and involves issues of identity and imagination, not just information. This is why EU, offered to schools with low rates of progression to tertiary education, systematically addresses five conditions which must all be met before low SES students enter tertiary education: awareness; aspiration; achievement; affordability; and access. The program is designed so students experience gradual growth in awareness, aspiration and capability through multiple engagements over time.
Activities and Progress
HEPPP funding enabled QUT to expand its pre-existing EU program, which was only offered to small numbers of senior students. Whole class cohorts now participate in several on-campus experiences as they progress from Year 6 to Year 12. Approximately 7,000 students from 36 partner schools attend one of 40 EU days or four residential camps annually.
Storytelling by student role models demystifies university and the people who go there. These ambassadors use prevalent myths about tertiary education to frame their personal ‘success’ stories; real students telling real stories incorporating real fears and real solutions. The approximately 70 ambassadors—alumni from low SES schools and equity scholarship recipients—undertake a comprehensive training process which builds capacity, develops skills and enhances their sense of belonging.
These student ambassadors now lead all aspects of the EU program. The program also benefits from faculty staff collaboration. Seventy engaging hands-on, ambassador-led, discipline-related activities have been developed, ranging from engineering to dance, from mock law trials to slam poetry, and from optometry to business entrepreneurship. All are age-appropriate and linked to related study and career opportunities.
The on-campus career development component has more recently been reinforced by in-school activities (in response to teachers’ feedback) to deepen and consolidate learnings. These include the development of pre- and post-EU Career Conversation resources and in-school tertiary admissions and career sessions.
Student and teacher feedback demonstrates that the program debunks myths, particularly the myths that ‘people like me don’t go to university’ and ‘it’s too expensive’, and builds aspiration for post-school study. Students and teachers consider that the program’s success arises from the opportunity to experience the campus first-hand, and the personal contact with student ambassador role models. Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) applications data indicates that interest in tertiary education is being stimulated. University applications from QUT target schools increased by 20 per cent between 2011 and 2016 (compared with a 15.8 per cent increase across all Queensland schools). In addition, 56.5 per cent of EU camp attendees made tertiary applications via QTAC.
It is the power of partnerships that maximises the program’s effectiveness. Over the last five years, trusting and respectful relationships have developed across QUT faculties and divisions, and with participating low SES schools. QUT staff have formed a community of practice based on a shared vision. The program has evolved as a result of deepening school, student and university collaboration.
School staff consider the program has positively influenced school culture. It also appears to have a ripple effect with peers and family, as evident when the student quoted above concluded: “My brothers aged three and four tell me they are going to uni when they are older, just like me!”
Students who attended EU days and camps as school students and were inspired by QUT ambassadors have come full circle and are now the role models, inspiring the next generation of low SES students by visiting their old schools as ambassadors. It is the circular nature of student involvement coupled with strong partnerships and commitment to a shared vision that are the strongest sustainability factors.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.