Open Foundation puts students at the core of curriculum and teaching
According to the Department of Education Higher Education Statistics (2019), the University of Newcastle is the largest provider of pathways programs in Australia, with Open Foundation the largest and oldest.
For almost half a century, Open Foundation has engaged tens of thousands of students in higher education, mainly from equity groups, with a commitment to equity through open access.
Many higher education pathways programs are not open access.
Instead, they include academic requirements or screen students prior to admission which carries the risk of perpetuating inequality. Being true to the “enabling” intent of the federal funding stream for these types of pathways, it is critical that instead of focussing on limiting access through performance requirements on entry, these pathways intended to widen participation should concentrate on the educational approaches and structural flexibility required for people dealing with multiple challenges, such as needing to work significant and irregular hours, and/or taking care of families.
However, open access does pose challenges. Entry barriers applied like diagnostic tests and interviews are often employed to increase retention, success and completion rates, although this does not provide students who require inclusion with opportunities to participate, given that socioeconomic and other forms of disadvantage correlate with educational disadvantage.
Open Foundation puts the student at the heart of the curriculum and teaching methods, with a strengths-based approach that takes students from the known to the unknown by applying concepts and skills to everyday life and interests. This is the way to achieve retention and success.
With this philosophy, in 2020, Open Foundation enabled over 95 per cent of completing students from low socio-economic backgrounds to access a degree.
As encouraged through this federal enabling scheme, pathways should also enable students to access other institutions in order to be truly enabling. Many other universities recognise Open Foundation for admission to their degrees.
When discussing their motivations for careers following Open Foundation, students mostly talk about wanting to “give back” after what they consider was a life-changing opportunity. While there are significant financial benefits for individuals and their families, Open Foundation provides wider socio-economic impacts, with graduates who contribute to the local workforce and community health and wellbeing.
Even those students who do not progress to degrees express an increased sense of confidence in their skills and communication capabilities, with increased knowledge, literacy and numeracy or scientific skills enabling progression at work, taking them from menial, labouring or entry-level roles to higher level and management positions within their workplaces.
With technology and increasing automation impacting traditional manufacturing and industrial jobs, and all of this exacerbated by COVID-19 inequalities, equity focussed pathways such as Open Foundation are now more critical than ever.
Dr Anna Bennett is Director of the Pathways and Academic Learning Support (PALS) Centre.
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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.