Collective support on journey to success

26 Apr, 2022
UniPrep students at South Campus
300 high school leavers took part in UniPrep 2022. Supplied/ Facebook: AUT UniPrep

AUT's UniPrep programme equips Auckland school leavers with necessary skills and tools for transition into university.

For many school leavers the move from high school to university is a smooth natural transition. For others however, it’s a huge jump and adjustment to a new and fast-moving world that goes beyond the confinements of a classroom and lecture hall and touches on the realities of living costs and supporting family members

From 14 January to 11 February up to 300 high school leavers from 55 schools predominantly from South and West Auckland took part in AUT’s renown UniPrep programme which took place at the AUT City and South campuses.

The programme featured a mixture of academic workshops, engagement activities, and challenges, which were designed to introduce students, many being the first in their family to attend tertiary education, to life on campus as well as helping them to navigate university systems and environments.

UniPrep also introduces students to a network of around 100 people made up of AUT staff, graduates and current AUT students who have previously been through the programme known as Oceanian Navigators.

UniPrep students in their school uniform

UniPrep student Nicole Winter, a Papatoetoe High School leaver, says the importance of education is not missed by students in the programme saying, “when we learn, we grow, when we grow, we succeed”.

“I wanted to join UniPrep at AUT after hearing about it from friends who previously attended testifying to how it helped them in their tertiary education journey and how it supported them to find their greatness.”

Director of Strategic Projects and Initiatives and UniPrep programme lead, Michael Collins, says many of the students coming through the programme have the same goals and aspirations as others but that many of them face unique challenges.

“UniPrep is about supporting students to navigate the journey from high school to university and preparing them to be great graduates. This requires us to understand their situations, find tailored solutions and develop opportunities,” says Collins.

Winter says that despite a desire to go on to university, there remains some tough choices for high school leavers in her community to make, such as whether to go into full-time employment to financially support their households, or whether to postpone studies to care for family members.

“Because of the uncertainty created by Covid-19, it made me wonder if studying was worth it when people are losing their jobs and the costs of living continues to increase,” says Winter.

Having the right tools and equipment such as a laptop or internet access are also barriers for some students and Collins says AUT understands this and continues to work hard to provide access for its students.

“We are at the forefront of learning online, incorporating Canvas, our universities’ new student learning platform into the programme, as well as providing a designated computer and headset for all 300 of our UniPrep students,” says Collins.

UniPrep Navigator and Bachelor of Laws and Business student Ta’a Ramsay says as a person who’s previously gone through the programme and is now in a mentorship position, they see their role as ensuring the next cohort of students are better prepared.

“There’s a big jump and a lot to take in, in terms of school courses, structures, standards and terminology as well as ensuring students are tapping into the resources available to them,” says Ramsay.

Upon completion of the four-week programme, students leave having completed a level 5 paper Learning in a Digital World paper delivered successfully by our Te Ara Poutama teaching team. Assessments included an essay, online quizzes, and group presentations.

This year’s UniPrep intake saw a 98% pass rate across its students and Collins says because of the inclusion of academic papers, UniPrep students are more prepared than most with academic writing and referencing at university degree level, an essential skill in all courses.

Students studying uniprep

Despite concerns Winter says joining the 2022 UniPrep programme has been one of the best choices they’ve made.

“Not only do I have an insight of what to expect when it comes to uni-life, but I feel more prepared going into my degree. It’s set me up with the right mindset, friends, and connections to make my time as a university student more enjoyable and worthwhile,” they say.

Collins says as the programme leader he hopes students feel welcomed and know they belong in this inclusive environment and that they are safe.

“Once students know they belong, then we can connect as a collective focusing on what commonalities unite us on this journey ahead to greatness.”

Vc Damon Salesa talks to UniPrep students

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Damon Salesa, says that the importance of UniPrep as an effective model in ensuring school-leavers successfully transition into tertiary studies, will be a critical feature of AUT’s Learner Success Plan – Ki Uta ki tai.

“The resilience and commitment shown by school-leavers from some of most COVID impacted communities to hold on to their career aspirations despite all odds, serves as a sharp reminder of our commitment and responsibility as a university to equity and excellence”.

Professor Salesa also commended the tenacity of the amazing team who worked relentlessly despite the many challenges and obstacles through the lockdown to successfully deliver a COVID-compliant hybrid programme that retained a high level of student engagement and satisfaction.

What the programme looked like and how it operated in 2022

  • Took place over four weeks with each week exploring different themes – Identity, culture, storytelling, journey.
  • Incorporation and completion of a level 5 literacy paper.
  • Mentorship through a tuakana-teina (older sibling-younger sibling) pairing with navigators.
  • Engagement activities to build connections.
  • Exploring university systems and canvas.
  • Lectures and workshops.
  • 300 students, split into 12 whānau groups which acted as bubbles.
  • Each whānau group/bubble was allocated a designated area around City and South campuses to adhere to the capacity restrictions and ensure everyone was safe.
  • All students participating along with navigators and staff must be fully vaccinated and verified.

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