Bridging programs transform students’ lives – they even go on to outperform others at uni


“I remember how hard the words hit me – ‘you’re not smart enough’.”

Dylan, a proud Bundjalung man in his 30s from northern New South Wales with South Sea Island heritage, shared with us what high school staff had told him during year 12.

“My childhood dream was crushed. My grades were terrible and my future was not looking bright. I hit rock bottom with no university acceptance, no career trajectory and no plan. I entered the workforce and bounced around.”

Years later, Dylan is publishing research on coral reefs while completing a PhD, thanks to completing the Preparing for Success (PSP) program at Southern Cross University.

PSP is an award-winning, fee-free bridging or enabling program that provides an entry pathway into a wide range of undergraduate degrees. Our recent research, which included comparing academic achievements over six years, shows students who completed the PSP are more successful in their studies than students who gained admission by other means such as an ATAR score. They are also more likely to complete their undergraduate studies.

How do these programs work?

University enabling programs such as PSP are offered across Australia. These programs are designed to equip students who don’t meet standard university entry requirements with the key academic literacy skills. By preparing students for successful transition into university study they can open the way to exciting careers and brighter futures.

Anyone who has completed year 10 of school can apply for Southern Cross’s PSP. Other universities offer versions of bridging programs to students without year 10.

These programs are typically fee-free across Australia. At Southern Cross, there are three intakes a year in March, July and November.

Students can complete PSP full-time in 12 weeks over two six-week terms, or part-time over a year. They can study completely online or on campus.

A shorter six-week version, Transition to Uni, is now available for students who have completed year 12 with an ATAR. Both programs are delivered in the new Southern Cross Model, which delivers a deeper, more focused learning experience in six-week terms. Transition to Uni has a January intake so students can start their undergraduate degrees with their peers in March.

The empowering teaching style engages students in an active learning experience. Active and empowering learning experiences encourage and reward students who are actively contributing, questioning and stretching their thinking. It allows them to develop independent learning and critical thinking skills. These skills ensure later success in degree study.

The approach is very different from most of the students’ previous experiences. In school, students often felt they had to follow teachers’ directions – sit, listen and learn, instead of question information.

Programs like PSP achieve the government’s aim of increasing participation in higher education of people from targeted equity groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, regional and remote students. They also help produce more job-ready graduates.

5 reasons to protect enabling education

Despite its successes, enabling education is facing challenges in Australia. The Job-Ready Graduates legislation has changed the higher education funding landscape in 2021.

Dedicated funding for enabling programs was removed from legislation and from universities. Despite growth in enrolments in many institutions, enabling funding has not substantially increased since 2017.

It is now up to the universities to decide how they will allocate their limited funding. Our research, including interviews with former PSP students, identifies five good reasons to support enabling education.

1. It provides access to higher education for students who would otherwise miss out due to disadvantage or past schooling attainment.

Ella, a first-in-family student who dropped out of school in year 11, described her experience of the enabling program.
“It just really switched that light bulb for me. I’m about to graduate my Bachelors in Midwifery and I’ll be the only person in my entire family ever to graduate from university.”
2. It prepares students to succeed and complete their undergraduate studies.

Aimee, now studying to be a teacher, thought she would go no further than being a cleaner.
“It was amazing to be using my brain again after four years of mindlessly scrubbing toilets. I gained enough confidence and enough understanding of what being at uni is like.”
3. It contributes to the government’s goals of increasing national participation in higher education and producing more job-ready graduates.

Neve was offered multiple interviews for graduate midwifery positions. This is a scenario she had not previously considered possible.
“If it wasn’t for the enabling program I couldn’t see myself being in the position I am now, doing all these interviews and completing my degree.”
4. It promotes inter-generational changes in attitudes to education.

Leanne’s progress in an Indigenous Studies degree helped give her daughter the courage to pursue a university education.
“My youngest daughter said she was definitely not going to uni. She just was too scared.  And having seen me do it, she’s now in the middle of session 2 . So that was a direct effect of me doing it and gaining confidence.”
5. It develops students’ critical thinking skills in a world of misinformation.

Wade saw just how much he had developed as a person. He uses the skills he learnt in the enabling program to analyse information and support his views in an informed way.
“Rather than just listen to one person’s opinion on a topic, I can actually go and find different evidence.”
Enabling education opens up a much-needed academic pathway. It allows students from a diverse range of backgrounds to get into and succeed in higher education. It equips them with the skills and confidence they need to fulfil their academic potential and achieve previously unimaginable careers.

Author Bios: Thomas Roche is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Quality) and Suzi Syme is Associate Dean (Education) both at Southern Cross University