The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: University of New South Wales — ASPIRE

ASPIRE is a multifaceted outreach program working with 56 partner schools in educationally disadvantaged communities in Sydney and regional and remote New South Wales.

The program provides age-appropriate educational activities within a scaffolded learning framework, both in school and at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), to facilitate learning about university and the benefits of a university education. Activities address barriers faced by students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds in accessing university education. Integral to the program is the involvement of UNSW students as ASPIRE Ambassadors, acting as role models for school students.


ASPIRE aims to:

  • raise awareness and enable aspirations of students to participate in higher education
  • assist in raising the academic attainment of students
  • assist students to make informed decisions that are right for them for their progression to higher education
  • address some of the barriers that prevent students from accessing higher education.

The program raises aspirations and builds capacity of people from low SES backgrounds by developing activities in partnership with primary and secondary schools and thereby complies with the Partnerships component of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP).

UNSW ASPIRE Coordinator quote

Activities and Progress

ASPIRE takes an innovative approach to addressing inequity of access to university.

  • It is multifaceted and multidimensional, addressing significant barriers in a way relevant to the communities in which it works. The program is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ and regularly introduces new elements depending on the context of the particular schools, for example the Homework Centre in Condobolin which operates two nights per week.
  • It undertakes a practice-led and practice-informed research approach including: embedding ASPIRE officers in communities and providing online reading mentors for remote Kindergarten to Year 3 students; online mentoring for middle secondary school students; and STEM development for teachers. Ethics approved research undertaken as part of the program has been introduced to inform both ASPIRE and sector-wide programs.
  • It uses both traditional face-to-face engagement methods, and other methods such as online initiatives to reach remote
    communities more often and address the barriers of distance. The program is currently experimenting with augmented and virtual reality.
  • It engages longitudinally with the same communities over a number of years. The whole school is engaged, with scaffolded activities in class for every age group from Kindergarten to Year 12. At key points students are brought on campus and into Sydney for residential experiences.


Since 2010, ASPIRE has engaged with over 45,000 students. Offer rates for students from ASPIRE’s schools to university have increased by over 120 per cent from 2010–16. Data from this same period shows that university offers are being made to students from ASPIRE schools that had very low offer rates prior to ASPIRE’s involvement in 2010. Schools that had a higher number of students receiving offers have significantly increased their offer rates by up to 90 per cent and in one
case offers increased threefold.

There has also been a 50 per cent increase in the range of universities making offers to students from ASPIRE schools as well as in the range of degree programs offered. This suggests that students have greater awareness of the range of university programs available and are obtaining the entry requirements for a broader range of institutions.

UNSW ASPIRE outcomes

Sustainable Impacts

The multifaceted, longitudinal approach working with the same group of schools over a number of years has enabled the program to:

  • build strong and lasting relationships within communities
  • engage multiple times with students
  • ensure that the workshops and interactions are tailored to address barriers and provide students with targeted information to make informed decisions about their future, particularly in the later senior years.

Successful longitudinal engagement requires the commitment of government, the institution and buy-in from the communities. Through working with the same schools over an extended period of time, ASPIRE has been able to build trust and buy-in within communities. As a result, schools have chosen to remain part of ASPIRE and are very willing to pilot new aspects of the program. Contact with ASPIRE Ambassadors (current university students) has contributed to overcoming barriers to entering higher education and to students beginning to see themselves at university.

This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.