Closing the gap through Bridges to Higher Education

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 38: Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World

July, 2015, 528 pages
Published by
T. Thomas, E. Levin, P. Dawson, K. Fraser & R. Hadgraft

Over the past two decades, despite large increases in overall access to higher education, the gap in the level of participation between the most affluent and most disadvantaged students has remained, raising issues with implications for education policy, economic efficiency and social justice. In order to redress the imbalance in the uptake of places in higher education, the Bridges to Higher Education collaboration encompasses 88 projects including student mentoring initiatives, summer schools, tutoring and preparatory programs, virtual academic lectures and community engagement programs. This article reports on the evaluation of the effectiveness of those 88 programs. Data was collected using a mixed methods approach with reporting templates collected by the five universities in the collaboration, three focus groups with school students, parents and teacher and stakeholder interviews. Data was analysed by external evaluators KPMG. The evaluation showed evidence of impact of the collaboration towards the following outcomes: improving students' academic preparedness and outcomes, increasing students' awareness, confidence and motivation towards higher education, building school and community capacity and increasing capacity to access higher education. Positive student performance in schools and a changing school culture towards higher education was also seen. This evidence suggests that targeting disadvantaged students when implementing policies towards learning in higher education is necessary to avoid widening the gap in the higher education system in Australia. The results highlight the importance of considering education as a lifelong process with multiple pathways into and out of higher education. Realising this potential through University collaboration can bring many benefits.