Breaking down barriers to higher education

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

2 July 2009: Campbelltown resident Steven Foster was once among those Australians for whom tertiary level education was not an option. Last week however he was one of the first students to complete a Certificate in Liberal Studies through the Clemente Australia Program at Campbelltown’s St Vincent De Paul Nagle Centre.

Steven said university had never been on the cards until  staff at the  Centre recognised his potential and invited him to participate in the Program, which offers people who have faced a range of life challenges – including addiction,  poverty and homelessness – access to university level  study.

“I didn’t have much of an opportunity in life,” he said.  “I knew I was fairly intellectual, I just needed a kick off, and there are a lot of people like me out there who don’t have that chance.”

In light of his life experience, the Program has inspired Steven to pursue a degree in social work.

“I see there’s a lot of need out there,” he said. “There are a lot of sad, desperate people who need help through no fault of their own, it’s just the environment they’re living in.

“I’d like to be able to advise them, give them other options, other roads.”

The three students who studied alongside Steven - Jenny Sheppard, Cindy Lockhart and Stephanie Haule - are also looking forward to the opportunity for further study.

“This for me was a realisation that I could get to uni,” said Stephanie, who left school at 15 in order to help support her family.

“I hadn’t worked for a number of years due to poor health and didn’t think I’d ever be able to go and do anything.

“This has given me the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do, get a teaching degree and teach kids.”

An initiative of Australian Catholic University (ACU) in partnership with a number of community based organisations, Clemente Australia has unlocked higher education for individuals who are otherwise excluded.

The soon-to-be graduates were commended on their achievement in a celebration held at the Nagle Centre last week, and attended by religious and charity representatives who support the program.

Mercy Foundation CEO Felicity Reynolds took the opportunity to recognise Clemente Australia for the work it is doing towards equity, and to offer a partnership grant on the Foundation’s behalf.

ACU Associate Professor Peter Howard said Clemente Australia is an important reflection of the University’s identity and mission.

“The non-negotiable for us as a university is to bring rigour and scholarship to the poor,” he said. “Not to empower them, but to enable them to become empowered; they do that, we just provide  a pathway.

“And what we’ve got today is a group of different organisations, one being ACU, who have had the will, the wit and the purpose to make a difference to people,  and that’s what we need to do more of.”

The students will graduate at the University’s spring graduation ceremony, on 29 September 2009 at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For more information on Clemente Australia visit