RMIT University — I Belong
I Belong programs address barriers to higher education, careers and professions among regional, low socioeconomic status (SES) and Indigenous secondary school students. Students can explore disciplines and careers through hands-on activities, understand the benefits and opportunities of tertiary education, and develop skills and knowledge to support their school achievement and successful transition to tertiary studies. Since 2012, over 16,000 secondary students have participated in the program.
- Australian Centre for the Moving Image
- BAE Systems
- Capital City Local Learning and Employment Network
- City of Melbourne
- Engineers without Borders
- Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia
- Koori Heritage Trust
- Lab De Stu
- Learn, Experience, Access Professions
- Melbourne Museum
- National Education Advancement Programs
- Student Youth Network (SYN) Media
- The National Gallery of Victoria
- The National Trust
- The Smith Family
- Schools Network Access Program (SNAP) — partnership with over 200 secondary schools focused on growing tertiary access.
With its focus on providing students with a positive experience of university and Melbourne, opportunities for career exploration, and accessible information about application processes, I Belong endeavours to address many of the barriers to higher education that students from low SES backgrounds face.
Programs are designed to:
- enhance students’ knowledge of entry pathways to university, study and course options and career opportunities
- improve students’ self-confidence
- increase students’ motivation for studies
- increase or affirm students’ enthusiasm about current and future studies
- expand students’ study and career aspirations by addressing perceptions about the relevance and attainability of tertiary study.
I Belong also has a strong focus on peer role modelling through the involvement of SNAP Champions, who are current RMIT students who studied at SNAP secondary schools.
Activities and Progress
Middle years students undertake applied learning experiences drawing upon key industry partnerships and the opportunities available at an urban university of technology, design and enterprise. Disciplines explored include marketing, creative industries, crime and justice, media and communications, sustainability, computer science and information technology, engineering, and health and medical sciences.
Senior years programs build on students’ discipline and career knowledge, with particular focus on equipping them to succeed in tertiary education. Programs include short, intense master classes in art and design, engineering, study skills, and mathematics and statistics.
Programs encourage participation by regional and Indigenous students through building relationships with schools, organisations and communities, and designing and delivering engaging content responsive to their needs. Melbourne residential camps for Indigenous students include a mix of cultural knowledge from local Elders, university information,
and discipline exploration.
A key development since I Belong’s inception has been the increased contribution of SNAP Champions, in response to student and teacher feedback. SNAP Champions come from similar backgrounds to participating secondary students, and promote a positive university experience through delivery of workshops and presentations, sharing their student experience, and acting as positive role models for secondary students, parents and teachers.
A NCSEHE evaluation of I Belong cited the universally positive responses of attending teachers, the high levels of student engagement, and confirmed that the programs are of very high quality and effectively respond to the issues experienced by low SES, regional and Indigenous students. In recent program evaluations, 80 per cent of students in middle years programs indicated that I Belong increased their interest in study options available at university, while 86 per cent of students in senior years programs reported an increase in confidence about going to university. Since 2012, over 16,000 secondary students have participated.
I Belong is currently funded through the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), enabling the university to build and deepen partnerships with schools and communities and to increase awareness of, and aspiration to, tertiary study among underrepresented students. Without HEPPP funding, the sustainability of I Belong programs is not yet resolved. In 2016 RMIT was successful in securing funding through the HEPPP National Priorities Pool to expand beyond I Belong’s existing model of on-campus, city-based engagement programs. RMIT will deliver targeted digital content and workshops that can be accessed by regional students from low SES backgrounds, parents and carers. These new resources will make it possible for regional students to engage with RMIT students, teaching staff and facilities, increase their understanding of university life, and develop study skills that will assist them should they choose to enrol in tertiary study.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.