Equity in education needs to be celebrated

The University of Newcastle has gone from a regional-basedinstitutionto one of the nation’s top 10 universities in the space of only a couple of decades.

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Its research reputation is even higher in someareas including health, science and engineering.

Of course, many other Australian universities have grown rapidly in a similar period of time on account of increasing numbers of students attending higher eduction.

But Newcastle’s path to global excellence is somewhat different.

Unlike other universities, the pathways that many students have followed to reach the University of Newcastle are many and varied.

The university established thenow internationally recognised Open Foundation program more than four decades ago for people who aspired to a university education but were unable to achieve entrance via the conventional route.

More than 30,000 students have since graduated from theprogram.

The program’s significance cannot be underestimated in the transition of the Hunter from an blue-collar industrial economy to a modern 21stcenturyservice economy.

Sadly the relativelyreadysupply of jobs in generations past meant that thousands of young peopledid not give higher education a second thought when they left school.

The situation is reversed todaywith an increasing number ofprofessional careers requiring a bachelor’s degree.

Whether by circumstance or choice, there is still a significant number of people who do notpursue higher education at the first-available opportunity.

The university’s enabling programs have given these people a second chance to reach their potential.

Some have gone on to remarkable achievements, often against all odds, to become teachers, doctors, nurses, research scientists and engineers.

The university’s centre ofexcellencefor equity in highereducation is a testament to the institution’s success in this field.

Institutions from around the world are now implementing enabling programs based on the same principles that the University of Newcastle has been using.

While there is much to celebrate in the university’s academic achievements, equal pride should be taken in its work to achieve equity in education.

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