University of South Australia – Connect
University of South Australia (UniSA) Connect curriculum enrichment programs involve over 8,000 senior secondary students annually, enhancing their STEM skills. The programs inspire further STEM study, educational attainment, and understanding of STEM career pathways.
UniSA Connect’s strong equity focus targets students that historically have been less engaged with STEM, such as girls and Indigenous students, and fosters consultative and collaborative secondary school partnerships across the low SES areas of Adelaide and regional and remote South Australia.
- University of South Australia: Division of Information Technology, Engineering and the Environment; Division of Health Sciences; and Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences
- Over 100 secondary schools
- Port Adelaide Football Club
- South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy
- The Smith Family.
UniSA Connect programs address the decline in secondary school students—particularly those from low SES backgrounds—studying STEM subjects. Inquiry-based learning focuses on engaging students in their learning while supporting them to develop their confidence, improve their STEM skills and raise achievement.
Teacher Professional Learning programs complement this and support sustainability by focusing on new technologies, emerging scientific knowledge, and engaging and interactive pedagogical approaches to science and mathematics learning. A Career Awareness program links students’ learning with relevant secondary subjects enabling students to achieve their goals, make informed decisions and pursue STEM learning and career options.
Activities and Progress
UniSA Connect programs are often designed in partnership with secondary schools to inspire and engage students in STEM study and to integrate with, enhance and deepen concept knowledge of school STEM curriculum.
Growing from a few two-hour programs, the range of programs available to secondary schools has expanded to full-day programs, including:
- STEM Enrichment Programs, immersing students in deep STEM learning, while providing authentic learning links to the Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority and South Australian Certificate in Education (SACE) curriculum
- STEM Student Networks and STEM Girls, enabling like-minded students to learn together
- Career Awareness Programs linked to the SACE Personal Learning Plan subject
- STEM School and Cluster Programs, meeting the needs of each school’s STEM strategy by linking to their STEM curriculum improvement agenda
- STEM Teacher Professional Learning Programs
- STEM Innovation Experience, promoting STEM and career pathways to the community
- University Experience Days, enabling students to participate in career awareness and experiential STEM programs on campus.
A partnership with the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy is also providing new approaches to learning, including culturally appropriate STEM subject options.
The consultative model of program development, review and refinement ensures programs are responsive to client needs and that ownership is shared. Issues such as low student achievement or engagement are framed as challenges that can be addressed through the reform of curriculum and pedagogy, rather than remediating individual student deficits of learning capacity or interest in education.
UniSA Connect programs commenced in 2011, with six schools and 600 students engaged. With the injection of HEPPP funds these numbers have increased. In 2016, 101 schools statewide were engaged, and 8,700 students attended Connect programs. Growth has resulted from the consultative model used to develop programs and the satisfaction level of student and teacher participants.
An analysis of nine metropolitan secondary schools involved in UniSA Connect since 2012 showed (from 2012 onwards) a 19 per cent increase in student first preferences to UniSA, and a 31 per cent increase in acceptances of offers to UniSA.
HEPPP funding has provided the impetus for UniSA Connect to build capacity within low SES school communities. University funding supplements the HEPPP funds, enabling UniSA Connect programs to go well beyond experience programs and ‘taster’ days that target individuals as potential students.
UniSA’s whole cohort model will continue to develop sustainable collaborative partnerships and, to borrow from Behrendt et al., “unlock capacity and empower choices”.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.