‘U @ Uni’ Summer School Program

The UTS U @ Uni Schools Outreach program is a key component of the UTS Widening Participation Strategy which provides a whole-of-university approach to increase the number of students from under-represented communities successfully completing university study.

Objectives of the Intervention

The ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School Program aims to encourage students in secondary and post-secondary education to consider pursuing higher education well before the point of enrolment. It includes a set of integrated initiatives for high school students that aims to:

  • build aspiration for tertiary study
  • support academic attainment
  • widen participation in higher education

In 2014 the summer school, which takes place in the January school holidays, welcomed 220 students from year 11, including 41 refugee students and 14 indigenous students.

The programme forms part of the ‘Widening Participation Strategy’ of the University of Technology Sydney which is based on a comprehensive approach to increasing the number of students from under-represented communities successfully completing university study. Moreover, it forms part of and receives funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and the Bridges to Higher Education Initiative (www.bridges.nsw.edu.au/).

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School programme forms part of a Widening Participation Strategy of the UTS. This strategy pursues a comprehensive approach to increasing participation of students from low socio-economic or indigenous backgrounds and supports them in completing their universities studies.

In order to support participation as well as completion of higher education of these underrepresented groups, the UTS funded more than 60 programmes in 2012 as part of the Widening Participation Strategy. These cover four themes, namely:

  • Building Aspiration, which includes the ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School programme: http://www.equity.uts.edu.au/access/studying/strategy/building.html
  • Widening Access, which aims at widening pathways into UTS: http://www.equity.uts.edu.au/access/studying/strategy/widening.html
  • Retention and Success, which aims at providing targeted support to students with special needs to improve retention and completion of studies: http://www.equity.uts.edu.au/access/studying/strategy/retention.html
  • Inclusive Community, which supports an inclusive and supportive environment at UTS: http://www.equity.uts.edu.au/access/studying/strategy/inclusive.html

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

The project addresses integration of underrepresented groups in higher education at a regional level. Students from schools in the Sydney and South West Sydney region are invited to participate. Students submit applications to their Year Advisers, who coordinate the submission of applications to UTS. Applicants receive support from their school and permission from their parents to attend the summer school. The program is available to selected Priority Action Schools (see: http://www.uts.edu.au/future-students/teachers/essential-information/uuni-school-programs#u-uni-partner-nbsp-schools).

Concretely, the Summer Schools target high school students who:

  • have the potential to attend university but need to improve their motivation to study
  • would be the first in their family to attend university
  • come from communities with low socio-economic backgrounds
  • identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Thus, it addresses in particular students from low socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities underrepresented in higher education.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

In 2009 the Federal Government implemented recommendations of the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education, with the aim of Australia maintaining its position as one of the most educated and skilled workforce in the world.

Two key targets are now shaping equity policies and programs in higher education:

  • Australian Graduate Profile; by 2025, 40% of 25 to 34-year-olds will hold a Bachelor Degree.
  • Low SES (socio-economic status) Participation in Higher Education; by 2020, 20% of higher education enrolments at undergraduate level will comprise people from low SES backgrounds.

Every university has established individual equity group participation targets through their Commonwealth Compact Agreements. Commonwealth funding from the Higher Educational Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) has been provided to assist universities in meeting national and institutional equity goals.

Thus, the Widening Participation Strategy of the UTS feeds directly into achieving the above-mentioned national targets and is supported by the emphasis given to achieving them.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

The University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School Program is a three-year program for students from UTS ‘U @ Uni’ partner schools in the southwest of Sydney. The program targets Year 10 students, that means students in their final year of secondary education, who need extra motivation or skills in order to aspire to, and gain entry into higher education, or who might be the first in their family to attend university.

UTS staff and academics aim to boost students’ enthusiasm to complete post-secondary education, demystify university, build interpersonal skills and raise personal aspirations by providing them with a range of opportunities including:

  • a two-week summer school in the January school holidays in areas such as design, engineering, business, health, film and science
  • multiple connections with UTS through school visits and follow-up workshops over the three-year period to develop skills that will assist them through Year 11 and 12 including critical thinking, study skills and stress management
  • information to assist them make informed decisions about post-high school options including access schemes and other support available for them to attend UTS.

By studying on campus with university staff and students, school students experience the university environment first-hand and build their confidence for learning and solving problems in a team environment.

Creating links with teachers and parents is integral to the program and is achieved through the ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School Graduation Ceremony, in which students receive awards in academic robes and share their achievements with parents and teachers; and the development of teaching resources based on content from the program to support the study of science, health and engineering back in schools.

The final intended outputs are an increase in higher education participation, in particular from the above-mentioned target groups, namely low socio-economic strata and ethnicities underrepresented in higher education.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

In terms of achieving its intended outcome of increasing higher education participation, the project ensures sustainability of the summer school through a series of preparatory and follow-up activities with participants of the project. These include the following:

  • May-July: School talks to students in year 10 in the schools participating in the ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School programme.
  • November: A one-day orientation session at UTS campus for students in year 10 participating in the ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School programme in January.
  • January: 2 weeks of Summer School at UTS campus for students in year 11.
  • April: A one-day workshop and screening of the Summer School DVD on UTS campus.
  • July: A one-day workshop on UTS campus on ‘Studying for Success’ support for students in year 11 to cope with post-secondary education and plan their future after completing school.
  • August: A one-day reunion workshop with students in year 11 having participated in the Summer School on UTS campus.
  • October: A one-day workshop on UTS campus for students in year 11 on plans after completing school.
  • April: A one-day workshop on UTS campus for students in year 12 providing them with coping strategies for dealing with stress related to completing post-secondary education.
  • August: An information session over lunch on UTS campus for students in year 12 providing them with information on education opportunities after graduating from post-secondary education in an informal environment.
  • January: A one-day reunion on UTS campus of former participants in the Summer School having completed their post-secondary education.

Resources used in the initiative

The ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School program is funded by the University of Technology in Sydney, the Commonwealth Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and the Bridges to Higher Education Initiative (www.bridges.nsw.edu.au/).
Funding is used to provide student resources, staffing and support to students as they make their way through the three-year programme.

Besides that, UTS recognises that there are travel expenses involved in attending activities in Sydney over the summer holidays and that students may lose income due to attending a Summer School. To assist in meeting these costs UTS provides:

  • travel cards for transport while the student is attending Summer School in January,
  • payment at the end of the Summer School if the student meets attendance and behavioural requirements,
  • students receive all meals while at the event free of charge.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

Research by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education in Australia identified that projects successful in achieving outreach to and inclusion of underrepresented groups met the following characteristics (Bowes et al. as referred to in Aitken 2013):

  • have sufficient staff to implement the action
  • provide financial support
  • are implemented on a long-term basis
  • provide an enhanced curriculum
  • are cohort based
  • include exposure to university life through site visits
  • are research driven

The ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School program meets these characteristics suggesting that it is well placed to be effective in increasing inclusion in higher education. Besides that, the Equity and Diversity Unit of the University of Technology Sydney has undertaken an evaluation of its ‘U @ Uni’ Summer School program in 2012, which captured both qualitative and quantitative data for programme evaluation. This evaluation indicated a sharp increase in students interested in enrolling in the programme from 27 year 10 students in 2009 to 227 students in 2014. In addition to the 2 week summer school, take-up of the additional voluntary follow-up activities by students that have taken part in the summer school has continuously increased (Aitken 2013). This suggests that the project has been successful in sustaining high aspirations of students enrolled in the summer school to continue their studies at higher education level given that they draw on the additional help provided for them to enter that level of education.

Moreover, since 2011, data collected before and after the 2-week summer school has produced a statistically significant difference in students’ attitudes towards ‘fitting into university’. In late 2012, 69% (N=114) of participants agreed that they felt they would fit into university compared to 82% (N=128) after they participated in the 2-week program. This is a very important aspect in demystifying the idea of university and increasing confidence and motivation.

Overall, the programme has achieved an above average transition of students having completed post-secondary education into higher education. In 2013 55% of the programmes’ participants completing post-secondary education have been offered a place at university compared to 48% among the general Australian student population (Aitken 2013).

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