Inspire students to reach for the stars and they will do just that. Sali Mohan is planning to study astronomy – or possibly psychiatry – when she finishes school.
The year 10 student at Fairfield High is among the target group of bright students from low socio-economic backgrounds who are being steered towards pursuing higher education.
Sali and her family arrived from Iraq when she was 11 and had no English, but her parents encouraged the Sali and her sisters to work as hard as they could to pursue professional careers.
"My two sisters both got very high ATARs. The oldest was 97 and the other one got 96 and they went into pharmacy," Sali said. "I'd like to do astronomy or psychiatry but I haven't decided yet."
Sali will be the third in her family to go to university but for some students at Fairfield High, they will be the first to take that step.
Year 11 student Helen Drake is very keen to go straight to university to study psychology or medicine, and hopes her siblings will follow suit. "I'm really ambitious and I just want to show that I can do it," she said.
The federal government has pitched in $21 million for an initiative with five Sydney universities to inspire those teenagers who might never have thought of going to university and gaining a degree. The federal government's ambition is for more than 40 per cent of the population to have a degree by 2025. One focus is to lift the rates of those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who make up 25 per cent of the population but of whom only 15 per cent go on to study beyond school.
The University of Sydney, Macquarie University, the University of Western Sydney, the Australian Catholic University and the University of Technology, Sydney have all signed up for the Bridges to Higher Education scheme, launched yesterday at Fairfield High by Senator Chris Evans.
Getting to students as early as possible, and establishing a rapport with them and with their families is key to inspiring tertiary ambitions, said the UWS chancellor, Professor Peter Shergold.
The participating universities have programs with many schools, both on their own campuses and at the schools, including former students returning to mentor younger peers.
The two girls and their friends said they signed up for as many programs as they could. They were a great way to demystify the step to university.
"I've been to one every couple of weeks," Helen said. "It's really broadened my perspective of what's out there."