Helping young people break down the barriers to higher education

A weekend of hiking was the perfect opportunity for Olivia to think about her future and actually start believing that she could be something good and worthy. Sinead found it incredible to see people from all walks of life and hear them tell their stories. Hiking helped Hayley grow as a person and get out of her comfort zone.

Over two days in March, Olivia, Sinead and Hayley, as well as 32 other young people swapped the classroom for the mountains of Maria Island in Tasmania and took part in a weekend hike with a difference: The Hike to Higher Education.

The hike involves students from various colleges around the state, including Wonthaggi College, Frankston College, Ararat College and Horsham College as well as mentors from Federation University and has been running for the past eight years, with over 350 young people attending.

Many of the young people who take part in the program come from families from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, where no-one has ever attended university, or are at risk of not completing high school.

The program works to help break down the perceived barriers to education for these young people and encourage them to strive for further education, as well as take control of their futures particularly when it comes to aspiring to go to university or TAFE.

Breaking down the barriers to help plan future goals.

Anglicare Victoria Program Manager David Law says the teachers who lead the group have identified the young people as having great capability and potential and in need of extra encouragement. The program helps the young people realise their potential and plan their future goals.

The hike acts as a metaphor to show the ups and downs of someone’s journey, and provides a context where the college and university mentors can talk honestly with the young people about university life, including the barriers they may have faced.

For the young people, it’s also about seeing that people from similar backgrounds who have faced similar challenges have made it to university and are glad to be there. University is not just a place for “others” but for them as well.

“The kids who attend the hike are able to hear from the university mentors and teachers about challenges they have faced of their own to get through higher education. It’s about creating a comfortable environment where they can thrive and aspire to build on their academic passion.”

“The mentors involved with the program have all experienced higher education so it’s about encouraging the young people to aim high…it’s essentially an open university day without the university,” he says.

Celebrating diversity and providing opportunities.

Josh Lloyd is the School Engagement Officer at Federation University and praises programs such as the Hike to Education, particularly its opportunities for diverse, regional and rural high school students and the level of connectivity it provides with a university and its students.

Federation University has supported the program for a number of years and the program is expanding around the state where the campuses sit.

“One of the key messages that we deliver whilst on the hike is that further study, whether that be at University or through TAFE is accessible to everyone, and that a student’s educational history does not dictate their educational future,” he says.

Frankston College P.E Teacher, Tristan Rowley brought four students along on the trip and found it to be a fantastic opportunity for the students to get out of their comfort zone.

“The camp gave us the chance to interact in situations and locations that most of us had not encountered before, from the plane flight, to the minimalist living conditions, to living with 25 strangers. My students rose to the occasion, and showed excellent character and maturity the whole trip. It didn’t matter what our background, all the staff and volunteers were where they wanted to be, and they were more than happy to share with the students about how they got there,” he said.

At the end of the day, it’s the guidance from the teachers, volunteers and mentors who take time to guide the young people through the hike that makes a big impact for the young people, who now have the encouragement they needed to aspire high and look forward to achieving brighter futures.