Enabling Programs

Enabling programs allow people who want to go to university but who lack the qualifications – because of disrupted or disadvantaged education, changing their mind about their career or for a variety of other reasons – to gain both access to university study and the necessary skills and background knowledge to succeed once they are at university.

Enabling programs provide a structured introduction to university studies in a way that both allows participants to demonstrate their capacity to cope with university studies while at the same time preparing them with the appropriate disciplinary knowledge, academic study skills and habits and expectations required for success at university. Such programs are run by a range of providers, including universities and institutions in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector but are increasingly being undertaken within universities as the Australian government puts more emphasis on increasing the number of students from non-traditional educational backgrounds in higher education.

Enabling programs offered by universities work on the basis that the best place for a student to learn how to cope with university-level work is at a university, allowing them to become familiar with the environment and ‘culture’ of a university at the same time as they study. They are offered in a variety of modes to allow the best chance for students from non-traditional backgrounds to fit studying with them into their current lives: they may be offered full-time or part-time, all year or across one or more semesters or trimesters, on- or off-campus via a distance mode, with a core courses component or without, or various combinations of these.

University-based enabling programs are often free of tuition charges, being funded by the Commonwealth government as part of the strategy to involve more students from non-traditional backgrounds in higher education and this can encourage prospective students to ‘give it a go’ to find out if university is for them. They are designed to give a ‘second chance’ to students who typically will have followed a non-standard educational pathway. Students may have left school early to work or to raise children or take on carer responsibilities, have been retrenched from their job, want to change their career to something which demands a university education or they may just for some other reason have changed their minds about the value of higher education. Students may have not been long from secondary school but for various reasons did not do as well in their studies as they might have and wish to try again or have been away from formal study for some time and need a lot of development of their study skills.

In order to encourage as many people as possible to see if they have the capacity for university study, many enabling programs have an open entry policy, with little or nothing in the way of academic qualifications needed for entry, while others may require evidence of a basic level of literacy and/or numeracy skills or even of level of commitment. Students entering enabling programs typically demonstrate a wide range of levels of motivation and confidence as well as of academic, life and organisational skills.

Those involved in enabling programs attribute much of the attrition rate to factors such as the diversity of the student body and the length of time that students may have been away from formal study, but little hard evidence is available. It is one of the primary aims of this project to develop evidence which will help to make this picture clearer in the case of enabling programs run within the university system.


Australian Enabling Programs:

University of Southern Queensland

University of Newcastle

University of South Australia

Edith Cowan University

University of New England

Australian Government Sites:

Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching

Significant Overseas Sites:

Foundation and Bridging Educators of New Zealand