Queensland Widening Participation Consortium
The central aim is to stimulate interest in tertiary study and to widen the tertiary participation of LSES and Indigenous Queenslanders
The Queensland Widening Participation Consortium is designed to improve the participation of LSES and Indigenous people in tertiary education. School outreach involves each partner university working with a cluster of local LSES schools, focusing on activities with Year 6–12 students including demystification and awareness-raising, on-campus experiences, curriculum enrichment, career development, and information on access, scholarships and financial support.
Eight Indigenous engagement initiatives target school students, adult learners, parents and communities, and include mentoring programs, tertiary preparation, and community, school and campus-based events.
- Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE)
- Australian Catholic University (ACU)
- Central Queensland University (CQU)
- Griffith University (Griffith)
- James Cook University (JCU)
- Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
- The University of Queensland (UQ)
- University of Southern Queensland (USQ)
- University of the Sunshine Coast (USC)
- each university has partnerships with multiple schools, community groups and organisations.
The Queensland Widening Participation Consortium’s central aim is to stimulate interest in tertiary study and to widen the tertiary participation of LSES and Indigenous Queenslanders. Queensland has the second highest Indigenous population in Australia (4.2 per cent of the state population) and a significant proportion of residents in regional and remote areas (52 per cent reside outside the greater metropolitan area). These demographics contribute to lower rates of participation in higher education compared with the national average, requiring long-term, sustained and coordinated effort from all higher education institutions. The participating universities designed a collaborative, non-competitive, learner-centred approach; eliminating gaps and duplication across the state; and fostering high quality evidence-based practices.
Activities are guided by an MOU which outlines the philosophy and approach, scope and scale of the school and Indigenous programs. While university partners share a common philosophy and approach, each university has tailored activities to build on pre-existing programs and respond to local needs.
In 2013, close to 450 schools from all regions of the state were engaged in the program, with approximately 50,000 students taking part in activities including on-campus visits and residential camps; school-based workshops and seminars; career development activities; and science, maths, art, writing, and other curriculum-enriching activities. Undergraduate students, often from the same schools and backgrounds as the school students, have been incorporated extensively as student ambassadors and role models to explain their journeys and inform and inspire younger students.
Activities have also targeted teachers, school leaders and parents, to foster sustained change in beliefs and attitudes about tertiary education. Some cohort specific activities have targeted Pasifika students (Pacific Islander and Maori peoples), students with disability and refugees. Indigenous engagement activities have built on existing initiatives in each university, are led by Indigenous people, and share a community-engagement approach. Activities have included mentoring and tutoring programs; community events, sports programs and camps; engagement with adults wanting to return to study (including career development services and tertiary preparation programs); and development of undergraduate pathways for people in correctional facilities. Over 1,000 Indigenous school students were involved in mentoring and tutoring activities in 2013, with 1,700 students attending other Indigenous-specific events and activities. Almost 100 Indigenous people enrolled in tertiary preparation or bridging programs connected with the program in 2013.
Qualitative feedback from students, staff and principals indicates that program activities are having positive impacts on students’ engagement with school and their interest in pursuing further study. Importantly, the partnerships with schools have matured with greater trust developing between schools and universities. In some LSES schools, evidence is emerging of a new culture where university is both achievable and desirable. A survey of over 6,000 school students in 2013 found agreement with the statement ‘I believe it is possible for me to go to university’ improved by 15 per cent between pre- and post-attendance at on-campus visits. Application data from the QTAC shows tertiary application rates for students most engaged in program activities improved by 2.5 per cent between 2012 and 2014.
The Queensland Higher Education Forum (HEF) established the Widening Participation Working Group in 2009 to investigate collaborative approaches to improving the participation of LSES background people in tertiary education. The group held a series of workshops to develop the partnership which was endorsed by the HEF in an MOU. The Widening Participation Working Group meets regularly to monitor program implementation, coordinate joint activities, monitor public policy and promote best practice. The group has also convened seminars to showcase the program and enhance practitioner networks. A project manager is located at the DETE offices and coordinates partnership arrangements.
While the MOU sets out a shared philosophy and common approach, each university has maintained its independence in implementing activities to suit its own operational model and local community needs. A funding distribution model was developed based on the actual costs of providing the planned activities, taking into account the remoteness, scale and complexity of the target community.
The partnership works because:
- partners spent over 12 months building a consensus, encoded in the MOU, before any activities began
- the funding available supported an ambitious up-scaling, resulting in a whole-of-state approach accommodating all stakeholders’ interests
- the approach builds on institutional strengths and allows for local institutional autonomy, within an overall shared approach
- the governance arrangements are ‘light touch’ but unambiguous, with the MOU providing guidance for emerging issues
- high levels of trust have been developed between the partners, with a shared commitment to the importance of the work.
All university partners have realised benefits of collaboration, and have developed relationships with schools and communities which they are keen to maintain. As HEPPP funding comes to a conclusion, new forms of collaboration are being explored. Already some universities have committed institutional funds to maintaining project elements, and some corporate funding is supporting delivery of Indigenous engagement projects. A recently announced Australian Maths and Science Partnership Program grant will work with a number of existing school partnerships to enhance teaching and learning in maths and science, and provide guidance on career and study options in these disciplines.
This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.