Pioneering a new style of uni entry

A group of Bendigo secondary school students are pioneering a new approach to university selection.  

The year 12 students from Bendigo Senior Secondary College have just finished their VCE exams and, unlike most of their peers, will begin schoolies celebrations already knowing they have the option of university study at La Trobe in 2014.

In a Victorian first, they will be able to gain a place in La Trobe University science and health science courses, not on the basis of their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), but on the successful completion of Uni Bridges and the recommendation of their teachers. Uni Bridges is a two-year special curriculum program undertaken while still at secondary school and supported by the University. 

The program has been piloted by the University for the past two years with students in years 11 and 12 at Bendigo Senior Secondary College and years 10 and 11 at Mill Park Secondary College and Reservoir Secondary College

Uni Bridges students graduate

Breaking down barriers 

La Trobe University Director of National Recruitment, Janne Gorman, said Uni Bridges was designed to help break down some of the barriers that stop potential students from entering university.

‘Uni Bridges provides a completely new way of making the University accessible to students who might not otherwise have considered it, or had the opportunity,’ Ms Gorman said.

‘Some of these students are the first in their family to go to university and Uni Bridges is a radically different way of providing school students with access to tertiary education. We work very closely with the teachers to decide who has the potential to be accepted into our courses.’

‘Students from these three schools have mixed socioeconomic status, and research shows that they are less likely to participate at university,’ she said.

Uni Bridges involves theme-based learning around the focus area of preventing and curing disease, and links subjects across disciplines, including English, mathematics and science. 

Students look at the biological process behind disease. In their English classes they examine the ethics and issues of disease and treatment. In mathematics they analyse statistics relating to preventing and curing disease. 

Ms Gorman said theme based learning is intended to provide richer meaning to what they are learning. 

‘Through outreach programs students come to the University and participate in laboratory experiments and practical sessions in disciplines such as nursing, dentistry, pathology and exercise physiology.

‘Uni Bridges doesn’t just offer another pathway to university,’ said Ms Gorman. ‘It also allows students to familiarise themselves with learning in a university setting, so that continuing their education at university is not seen as an unobtainable goal.’

A commitment to increasing higher education participation rates 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Jane Long said ‘An ATAR doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story about a student and their potential for university study. There has been incredible growth in the university sector with more students admitted with a range of ATARs, yet there has been no discernible, adverse impact upon quality. 

‘One of the University’s goals under the Future Ready strategic plan is to increase the higher education participation rate for lower socioeconomic status students from 17 per cent to 20 per cent by 2017. Uni Bridges is a really important step towards making this a reality.’

Uni Bridges is an initiative of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in partnership with La Trobe University, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Mill Park Secondary College and Reservoir High School.

Program expansion 

The program is to be expanded in 2014 supported by funding from the Commonwealth Government Higher Education Pathways and Participation Program.

New schools from Melbourne’s north that will next year take part in the expanded program include Glenroy, Bundoora, Charles La Trobe, Gladstone Park and Epping Secondary Colleges. 

In Bendigo the new schools will be Bendigo South East College, Crusoe and Eaglehawk Secondary Colleges and Weeroona College.

Uni Bridges was initiated and overseen by respected education expert Professor Richard Teese. It began with State government funds in 2010 to help boost school retention rates and university transfer. 

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