When he took over as Prime Minister just seven months ago, Malcolm Turnbull did so with a commitment to lead the nation through an urgent transformation into a knowledge-based economy. “We are living at the most exciting time,” he said, acknowledging the changes happening to the global economy. To fully participate in this revolution, he explained that Australia needs to build a national workforce with strong science, technology, engineering and maths skills to drive a culture of innovation. It's an inspiring vision.
Now let’s cast our minds back briefly to 2008, when the Bradley Review into higher education brought national attention to the social inequity that had underpinned federal higher education policy for the last quarter-century. When the government at the time accepted the review, it also adopted a target of 20% of all students enrolled in tertiary education to be from low-SES backgrounds by 2020. The vision is to more equitably spread the benefits of tertiary learning and to build a nation of highly educated workers.
The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) was subsequently established to provide universities with additional resources to build the aspirations and capacity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend and succeed in higher education.
Since the introduction of HEPPP, we have been working closely with universities across Australia - including Western Sydney, Edith Cowan, Sydney, Curtin, RMIT, Charles Sturt, James Cook, UWA, and others, in programs like Bridges. Our job within these partnerships is to develop the literacy, numeracy and other core academic skills of high school students and to support those same students once they transition to uni, to improve their success rates.
What do our results look like? Over the last 4+ years, we have reached upwards of 50,000 students at more than 250 high schools, as well as thousands of pathways and university students.
On any given night we support hundreds of students with personalised one-to-one academic help, in mathematics, all the sciences (including biology, chemistry and physics), plus English, and a range of other subjects. In addition, we provide 24/7 essay feedback to help students learn one of the most difficult and important academic skills: communicating clearly with the written word.
In the last 12 months we’ve provided professional feedback on more than 25,000 essays and this year we expect that number to quadruple.
How do we measure the impact of these partnerships? Students typically rate their experiences with Studiosity as “excellent” or “very good,” and they say we’re helping them improve their marks. Moreover, our university partners are reporting significant, measurable improvements in the retention and progression rates of their first year students when they make regular use of our online learning support. One partner university has measured the impact of Studiosity as a 15% improvement in their students’ course progression.
And high school students who have regular access to our learning support from year 9 through the remaining years of high school are more likely to pursue pathways to tertiary education, as opposed to entering the workforce as largely unskilled labour.
The students in these university outreach programs come from all backgrounds and circumstances. They include the high-immigrant, culturally and linguistically diverse communities of Greater Western Sydney, regional communities across Australia where educational outcomes have traditionally lagged, and Indigenous students in hundreds of high schools.
HEPPP plays a key role in ensuring the nation gives every young Australian a fair go when it comes to participating in - and benefiting from - our emerging knowledge-based economy.