Bridges to Higher Education Bridges to Higher Education

The Bridges Effect



University of Technology, Sydney Australian Catholic University University of Sydney Macquarie University Western Sydney University logo


Educational aspirations 
Improvements to school completion
School engagement
Better school culture
Better academic performance




298,980 student contacts
28,172 parent contacts
15,644 teacher contacts
314 schools

Results Snapshot

92% students developed better study skills
97% students sought information about university options
98% teachers participation helped expand their teaching practices
88% of students reported greater awareness of pathways to university
88% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students motivated to complete high school

Increased Offers

Significant 6.1% increase in university offers made to students at Bridges participating LSES schools: 
962 more higher education offers
671 projected LSES higher education completions = approximately $40 million fees*.

Return on Investment

Economic return to LSES communities of $54 million in projected earnings and tax revenues. Equivalent to a $6 return for every extra dollar invested in LSES schools

Community Impact**

Wellbeing and happiness
More volunteering
Civic participation
Better health
Less crime


Thanking our supporters

  • NSW Department of Education and Communities
  • Western Sydney Institute of TAFE
  • South Western Sydney Institute of TAFE
  • Sydney Institute of TAFE
  • Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils
  • Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils
  • Universities Admissions Centre (NSW & ACT)
  • Catholic Education Office: Parramatta;
  • Association of Independent Schools of NSW Ltd
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council
  • NSW Primary Principals Association
  • The Smith Family
  • Country Education Foundation of Australia
  • KPMG

A new way of working

Bridges to Higher Education is aimed at dramatically improving the participation rate of students from communities under-represented in higher education in NSW. Established by five leading NSW universities, Bridges was supported by a $21.2 million Commonwealth Government grant and began work in 2012.

KPMG* found that the Bridges initiative has made a profound difference to the future of many thousands of young Australians, providing an invaluable pathway to education, achievement, employability and life-long learning.

New Ways of Working

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to be under-represented in Australian higher education. Working individually, universities are often unable to deliver the breadth and depth of programs needed to make a significant improvement.

Recognising the power of collaboration, a partnership of five New South Wales universities established Bridges to Higher Education (Bridges) to improve university access for students from low socio-economic backgrounds (LSES), specifically in Greater Western Sydney (GWS) and those living in rural and regional areas.

The most-significantly funded initiative under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), Bridges brought together the Australian Catholic University, Macquarie University, University of Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, and Western Sydney University. It also tapped into the resources and experience of 30 other partners and over 300 NSW primary and high schools.

Collaboration of this scale across the NSW education sector is a first and has enabled an unprecedented holistic approach for the Bridges partnership to achieve outcomes including:

  • Improved student academic preparedness and outcomes.
  • Increased student awareness.
  • Increased confidence and motivation toward higher education and their ability to access it.
  • Increased school and community capacity.

The collaboration has provided a basis for better coordination with schools, greater outreach, more activities, and a sustainable, cost-efficient initiative in a challenging fiscal environment.

Thomas Do

Broader reach – Greater Results

Bridges developed and implemented 96 projects across NSW schools. The projects were designed to help students realise their potential and to attend university through creating awareness, building aspiration and increasing access options.

Involving students, parents, teachers, paid and unpaid helpers and the community (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders) was integral to all Bridges projects.

Bridges contracted KPMG to conduct an external, independent and objective evaluative report on all projects undertaken throughout a two-year period (2012–2014). The Bridges to Higher Education Final Report* reveals the remarkable outcomes.

Connections made with Bridges target groups were often intensive, with many projects providing tailored and ongoing support. As a result, Bridges exceeded all outreach targets, achieving connections with:

  • 298,980 student contacts;
  • 28,172 parent contacts;
  • 15,644 teacher contacts; and
  • 314 schools.

A further 60,948 indirect student contacts and 10,926 indirect teacher contacts were achieved through the TVS television series Enquiring Minds and Models of Achievement.

Community Impact

The KPMG Report cost benefit analysis shows that Bridges not only achieved its objectives to increase LSES access to and participation in university, but also delivered an almost six-fold return on the Government's investment to LSES communities. It also delivered a three-fold return to the NSW community-at-large. Specific findings calculate the following:

The expected economic return to LSES communities of $54 million in projected earnings and tax revenues.

  • This can be broken down to a $6 return for everyextra dollar invested in Bridges LSES school projects.

The expected economic return to the community-at-large of $45 million in projected earnings and tax revenues.

  • This is the equivalent to a $3 return for every extra dollar invested in all Bridges school projects.

The results are also great news for the Government's higher education participation targets and Universities with:

  • An impressive 6.1% increase in offers made to school leavers at Bridges LSES schools. In comparison to non-Bridges LSES schools who achieved a 1% increase, this represents a 5.1% increase in offers made to students at participating Bridges LSES schools.
  • 962 more higher education offers to students at Bridges LSES schools.
  • A projected additional 671 LSES students to complete a higher education qualification.

Community Impact 

The non-financial benefits education can deliver to graduates and the broader community have long-term effects and include:

  • Greater wellbeing and happiness.
  • Improved health.
  • Volunteering and community participation.
  • Less crime and stronger relationships.
  • Less reliance on welfare, as more graduates become employed.


The KPMG Final Report evidences an effective approach to widening higher education participation against four key outcomes and endorses the Bridges program as a proven blueprint that can be utilised by other universities and higher education institutions with a view to initiating results-based approaches to their outreach strategies.

Students' academic preparedness and outcomes

Forty-seven projects included academic skills sessions, and mentoring and tutoring by current university students. Bridges students also learned practical skills such as time management, teamwork and leadership.

  • 92% students developed better study skills.
  • 93% students better prepared for university.
  • 96% parents and carers have better capacity to support their child's higher education goals.

Awareness, confidence and motivation

Fifty-five projects focused on improving students' awareness of higher education possibilities.

  • 97% students sought information about university options after participating in Bridges.
  • 70% students have improved motivation to continue to year 12.
  • 87% students have a more positive idea of university.
  • 90% students indicate greater awareness of university offerings.
  • 83% students greater school engagement (reported by teachers).

School community and capacity

Forty-two projects focused on creating partnerships with schools, communities and universities, and included teachers' professional development workshops and community events.

  • 98% teachers said participation helped expand their teaching practices.
  • 100% teachers feel better supported to engage students in learning.
  • 97% teachers able to apply their learning to their teaching.

Access to Higher Education

Bridges ran 15 projects aimed at improving TAFE student access to university courses. Projects outside the classroom involved student visits to university campuses, community events, and focus groups for parents.

Building on existing partnerships between universities and TAFEs, Bridges helped develop alternative routes to transition from vocational to higher education through the development of 421 pathways and 186 credit transfer and articulation arrangements. As a result:

  • 88% of students reported greater awareness of pathways to university.

Engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Specific projects for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were developed in collaboration with community leaders. Projects focused on aspiration-building and addressed students' unique and cultural needs.

  • 91% students motivated to complete high school.
  • 86% students greater awareness of potential career pathways.
  • 97% increase in parent and carer ambitions for their child.
  • 94% parents and carers more involved in their child's school.
  • 98% parents and carers report better knowledge of higher education options.

"When I finish school I might go to university to study engineering and sports. I now have a better idea what university is. At university you don't just watch, you do things yourself. I was going to play in a soccer team after  school; I might still do that but maybe after university".

Rhys Walker age 12 years, year 5, Dawson Public School

"I learned that there are many cool subjects at university and the [Bridges] program has helped me to plan my future. I learned that you don't have to be a star to do well, you just have to try".

Liam Walker age 14 years, year 7, Rooty Hill High School.

"I didn't study much myself as I left school at year 10. I didn't get the opportunity to go to university, the same as many in our community. Through the [Bridges] program our community, too, gets more exposure to university and becomes more interested in opportunities that are available".

Loretta Walker, Mother

"Universities are often seen as quite distant closed off institutions, only for students with the best marks. First Foot Forward [Bridges] breaks down some of these barriers and shows that university is also about having a passion".

Alice McLennan, Rhys' Teacher

Building Bridges to the Future

Bridges to Higher Education has developed a strong foothold in supporting students and communities traditionally associated with disadvantage and hardship.

To enable students from these communities to realise their potential through education, it is crucial that Bridges continues to capitalise on the program's outcomes and expand the community of practice to involve other NSW and Australian universities.

With an estimated 80,000 LSES school leavers not considering higher education, an expanded Bridges program will enable universities and governments to engage this under-represented cohort and increase LSES student numbers more broadly across Australian universities. Bridges has shown that such an outcome will facilitate positive impacts for students, their communities and the broader national economy.

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