Enabling programs provided by universities offer an alternative pathway into higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have the potential to undertake higher education but did not achieve a tertiary entrance rank at school or who have not studied for some time. These programs smooth students’ transition by introducing them to university life and building the academic skills and knowledge needed to succeed at the tertiary level. Some programs aim to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cohorts from remote and regional locations and in disciplines of particular relevance to those cohorts.
9.6.1 Critical success factors
Critical success factors include:
- preparation programs project an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity that assists students to develop a sense of belonging in the wider university environment
- intensive academic and pastoral support cultivates a realistic understanding of what university studies entail
- student readiness is maximised through tailored, flexible approaches.
9.6.2 Key challenges
Key challenges include:
- committing the resources required to deliver in regional areas in terms of staffing, logistics and student recruitment
- accommodating the high attrition rates that often result as students explore their capacity to transition to higher education
- supporting students from individual and community backgrounds that are not conducive to university study
- accessing financial support for students and their dependants.
The University of Adelaide – Wilto Yerlo University Preparatory Program
Wilto Yerlo, the University of Adelaide’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and student support centre, offers foundation, enabling or bridging programs on the main city campus and is seeking wider enrolments from regional areas, including the Spencer Gulf region and Port Augusta. In 2012, Wilto Yerlo introduced the University Preparatory Program which aims to provide a pathway for, and preparation of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study for undergraduate degrees at the University of Adelaide. In early 2012, 20 students had enrolled in the program.
In providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with pathways to study at the university, the program builds on the success of the previous Humanities and Social Sciences Foundation Program, which originated from an Australian Government policy designed to increase access to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It also aims to increase pathway opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to engage with mathematics or science-based foundation studies and provides them with a background for studies across the faculties.
Over the past five years, the Wilto Yerlo Student Experience of Learning and Teaching system has shown a consistently high level of satisfaction with courses and teaching, including in the prioritisation of Indigenous knowledges and practices in teaching and across all its academic areas. The course structure and approach have been shown to reinforce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity and develop student confidence.
Wilto Yerlo’s academic team engages ‘Reconciliation Pedagogy’ that draws upon Western and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges. The course provides opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members to teach and participate in the research environment at the university and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate students are occasionally employed to tutor or provide guest lectures.
The University of Queensland – UQ College
In 2011, the University of Queensland established UQ College, a registered training organisation, at its Ipswich campus to provide alternative entry for groups new to higher education. The aim of UQ College is to create innovative pathways and optimise access to higher education, particularly for students from low socio-economic status backgrounds and mature-age students who wish to upgrade or re-engage with the education process.
By increasing participation, retention and completion rates, UQ College aims to boost students’ employment and career prospects. It specialises in the delivery of tertiary preparation and support programs, and associate degree–level qualifications. At the end of its first year of operation in 2011, 21 students successfully graduated from the 28-week intensive program of study in tertiary preparation, equivalent to Year 12 completion. Over 70% of the UQ College intake went on to enrol in bachelor-level degrees at the University of Queensland, the associate degree at UQ College or diploma-level programs with other providers.
In both the tertiary preparation and associate degree programs, UQ College has initially attracted a cross-section of students, including refugee, Pacific Island and Indigenous students. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for around 15% of the programs’ intake.
The University of New South Wales – preparatory programs
The University of New South Wales offers enabling programs for students who lack the qualifications for university admission—one in science, engineering and technology and one in the humanities. The Indigenous Preparatory Programs (Pre-Programs) are run in four-week intensive residential blocks. They provide a pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enter undergraduate programs in business, law, medicine and social work. Students are assessed throughout the program on their ability to participate academically in the discipline area, commitment to study, attitude and aptitude for university studies.
The Pre-Programs have been a core part of the university’s activities for some years. The 2011 program marked the eighteenth annual program for law, fourteenth for medicine, tenth for business and ninth for social work. The Pre-Law Program has grown to be the largest of the four discipline areas. In 2011, 25 new students participated in the program, and 19 of those went on to study at the university in 2012.
The Pre-Law Program is designed to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students develop the skills necessary to complete undergraduate studies in law. The program includes a simulation of the law school experience, and an introduction to university life and the study of law within a culturally appropriate environment. Attending lectures and completing assignments are included as realistic experiences of first-year study. Aiming to prepare participants for a mainstream education in law, program content includes an introduction to legal process, Indigenous legal issues, criminal law, legal writing and academic skills.
The Pre-Programs run at no cost to participants. The university’s Nura Gili centre arranges all travel, accommodation, meals and study materials. The faculties coordinate the teaching and learning curriculum.