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Teenagers in suburbs like Lockridge, Girrawheen and Hamilton Hill don't often pay much attention to the idea of going to university.
But now these high school students have come to the attention of UWA... and we're spending $2.45 million to encourage teenagers from these and 21 other similar areas in Perth and the Pilbara to study at University.
Aspire UWA, the biggest outreach equity program to come out of the University, is funded by the Federal Government. UWA has contributed a further $1.25 million in-kind.
Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Western Australia and Member for Brand, Gary Gray, represented Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the launch of Aspire UWA last month.
UWA has formed partnerships with 24 schools, six from the Pilbara and the remaining 18 from metropolitan Perth.
The program will target Year 9 students from rural, Indigenous, refugee and low socio-economic communities.
Many of the first students were at the launch at the University Club, some admitting to feeling "excited but a little daunted": exactly the words used by Aspire UWA coordinator Judy Skene. "It's a fantastic wide-ranging program that we hope will really make a difference in attracting students from areas with what we call a low transfer to UWA or any other university," said Dr Skene, Manager of Student Support Services.
The three key UWA partners in the project are Student Services, the School of Indigenous Studies (SIS) and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
"Medicine and Dentistry has had a very successful rural program for years," said Dr Skene. "Rural high school students now make up 25 per cent of the annual intake and the Dean, Professor Ian Puddey, has said he now wants to see increased enrolments from these ‘low transfer' outer metropolitan schools.
"Indigenous Studies also has successful programs in place but this funding means their staff will now have the time to work with prospective students' families and bring them onto the campus, to encourage them to send their children here."
At the coalface for Aspire UWA are Jon Stubbs, project sponsor; Ray Garrett, Jeromy Harvey and Brendon DeGois at SIS; Louise Pollard and Janene Beatty in Student Services; and Janine Tomlinson helping Sue Pougnault in Medicine and Dentistry.
"We will start with Year 9s and follow them through until they finish school, and each year we will bring in a new Year 9 group," Dr Skene said. "We have recruited some current UWA students who came from these schools, and trained them in public speaking, networking, mentoring and as campus guides. They will be a great connection for the school students.
"We are not trying to get the Year 9s to think yet about what they might do at university. We just want them to explore the idea and the reasons why they may or may not want to go to university."
The Aspire UWA group has made DVDs about students from the Pilbara who are studying Medicine and Engineering. They have also organised a camp in November for 60 students from the Pilbara, who will stay at Currie Hall and familiarise themselves with the campus.
"Some teachers are already using the camp as a ‘carrot' to get the students to work hard."
Dr Skene said many of the targeted high school students would be eligible for Federal Government assistance and UWA scholarships if they decided to come to UWA.
"We have a lot of scholarships for these students and there will be more coming from the Centenary campaign," she said. Dr Skene is part of the Student Equity and Access steering group, set up last year and chaired by Winthrop Professor Jane Long. Also in the group are Winthrop Professor Bill Louden, Peter Curtis, Jon Stubbs, Dr Sato Juniper, Dr Campbell Thomson and Professor Darlene Oxenham. The group was formed to expand equity and access outreach activities, review scholarships, student finance and new initiatives, and it oversaw the development of Aspire UWA.
"We have signed agreements with all 24 schools and have visited each of them, including the six in the Pilbara. We have events and activities in place. Now we want to ask the rest of the UWA community how they can contribute," said Dr Skene.
"This is a brilliant opportunity and we want as many people as possible to be involved. Please think about what you can do: a school visit, a lecture, activities on campus?"
At the launch, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson, told the audience of students, teachers, principals and corporate supporters that he had gone to University from a lower socio-economic background.
"On my first day at Melbourne University, we went up to the top of the tower and everybody looked out to spot their suburb. I was the only one looking north," he said.
"So I strongly support this program and encourage staff and students to get involved in it. When Hackett established our University, he said it was to be a university of the community and, for a long time, it was the only free university in Australia.
"We now spend $20 million a year on scholarships, an enormous increase over the past five years.
"And I announce today that we are extending our Excellence Awards, where one student from every WA school is identified as most likely to succeed at University. The scheme will now be extended to three awards for each of our partner schools in Aspire UWA."
- Alan Robson, Vice Chancellor
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