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The University of Adelaide – Children’s University

The University of Adelaide is the national license holder for the Children’s University program in Australia. Children’s University Australia (CUA) provides validated, extra-curricular learning opportunities for children aged 7–14 years, and volunteering opportunities for 15–18-year-olds.

CUA engages children in learning in the broadest sense, providing the scaffolding to develop self-efficacy, confidence and aspirations. There is a strong emphasis on exploration and experience as learning tools, with participants encouraged to pursue their passions. CUA is at the forefront in cultivating a love of learning and raising aspirations among young people who may otherwise be disengaged from education.

CUA currently partners with 117 schools and 137 ‘Learning Destinations’ across Australia, including many local councils, libraries and art galleries, and this continues to grow. Major partners include:

  • South Australian Museum
  • Zoos SA
  • Bunnings
  • WOMADelaide
  • Questacon — the National Science and Technology Centre
  • Mobile Science Education
  • Port Arthur Historic Site
  • Government House Tasmania
  • Bass Strait Maritime Centre
  • Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre
  • Hunter Medical Research Institute.


CUA offers superior educational experiences for young people through extra-curricular activities and recognises their achievements through the award of formal certificates and graduations. CUA encourages children to explore new ideas, concepts and experiences via public or school-based Learning Destinations, engaging in a new way of learning that sits outside their normal school experience. CUA leverages local educational and learning activity providers including sports clubs, museums, galleries and school clubs, reinforcing that learning is something that can happen in a wide range of places and contexts. This is especially valuable in families and communities with a history of disengagement with education.

Activities and Progress

Activities take place in Learning Destinations which have been validated and quality-assured through the CUA accredited Planning for Learning program. Learning Destinations can range from a museum to a farm to an airport or even a business, provided the activity connects with clear learning outcomes and has credible links to future study opportunities.

Childrens University Coordinator quote

Participants are issued with a ‘Passport to Learning’ to record their learning journey. For every hour of activity, they receive a stamp in their passport. When they reach the hours needed to graduate from CUA, they participate in formal graduation ceremonies at high-profile locations like The University of Adelaide’s Bonython Hall. In response to feedback from older students a ‘Passport to Volunteering’ was created which provides 15–18-year-olds with opportunities to assist with running CUA activities, while developing leadership skills and graduate attributes. Older students can use this activity to count towards the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and the South Australian Certificate of Education. From 2016, CUA has also begun partnering with government and other organisations to provide opportunities for young people to shadow senior state executives, opening their eyes to new possibilities for their own futures.


CUA was launched at The University of Adelaide in 2013. It was piloted with one school, 45 participants and nine Learning Destinations. It is now operating nationally, partnering with the University of Tasmania, The University of Newcastle, and Charles Darwin University, with plans to expand further. Currently around 10,500 CUA Passports to Learning have been issued and nearly 2,500 children have graduated.

Childrens University Program Evaluation

Part of the effectiveness of CUA is that it disrupts normal assumptions about education and engagement, not just for participants but also for families and communities who are able to see the value and impact for their children. Evaluations of CUA demonstrate the impact that the program has on students and their communities. A National Centre for Vocational Education Research report in 2016 noted that parents and teachers agreed that CUA was very positive for the school and community and that participants enjoyed school more, had improved self-confidence and had greater engagement with learning.

Sustainable Impacts

CUA is already well-established in three states and expansion into the remaining states is planned within the next few years. New schools and Learning Destinations are continually signing up for the program and this growth is expected to continue to grow exponentially. Though funded through the HEPPP, CUA also generates a small amount of income through sales of memberships/passports and merchandise. This income goes back into the program to help provide transport and subsidise, or otherwise reduce, costs of participation for low SES students. It is expected that CUA activities will continue to be funded through the HEPPP as a flagship outreach program for Adelaide and the partner universities. CUA is also seeking state funding, philanthropic donations and corporate sponsorship to ensure diversity of funding and sustainability.

This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.

Posted 11 May 2018 Posted in General, Low SES