Uni for Australians experiencing disadvantage

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A groundbreaking university course for people struggling with homelessness, mental illness and long-term unemployment has resulted in improved health, housing, financial and social outlooks among participants according to a new study.

The Catalyst-Clemente program provides accredited university courses in humanities subjects such as literature and Australian history as a step towards overcoming poverty and other serious challenges.

Subsequently, the way out of poverty is about giving people access to more than just a wage or a roof over their heads, it’s also about engaging them in activities that lead to social interaction, learning and community participation.

According to the study, a survey of participants two weeks into the 12 week Catalyst-Clemente semester picked up an improved satisfaction with life across a range of categories which grew, often significantly, by the end:
  • 66% were satisfied with their life shortly after starting the program, 76% by the end.
  • 51% were satisfied with their health after starting the program, 65% by the end.
  • 60% were feeling part of the community after starting the program, 76% by the end.
  • 12% were satisfied with their financial situation after starting the program, 27% by the end.
  • 24% were satisfied with their housing situation after starting the program, 36% by the end.

Mission Australia’s CEO, Toby Hall, said Catalyst-Clemente had been an outstanding success.

“Catalyst-Clemente students are often dealing with extremely complex issues,” said Mr Hall.

“From the study we know 79% have experienced homelessness (with 44% sleeping rough); 87% are on government pensions or benefits; almost half have had to ask an agency for food/clothes/accommodation/money in the past 12 months; and a similar number are wrestling with physical and mental health conditions.

“It’s a huge achievement for people struggling with these challenges to be able to apply themselves to a university subject. It’s even better to know the positive impact that participation is having.”

Associate Professor Peter Howard, ACU’s National Leader of Catalyst-Clemente, said the course’s impact on the students was immediate and profound.

“This university program is transformational in nature in that it brings about new learning opportunities and new futures for people. Catalyst-Clemente is only possible through the collaboration and the will of organisations to look for new educational pathways for people experiencing multiple disadvantage,” said Professor Howard.

According to Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive Officer of the St Vincent De Paul Society, the most significant benefit of the program was its potential to turn lives around.

“Catalyst-Clemente is having a real and hopefully long-lasting impact on people’s lives – bringing them back into contact with the community and improving their image of themselves and their relationships with family and friends.

“If someone’s interacting more broadly with the community, all the other factors important to successful participation are made more likely for each individual – getting a job, finding a stable home or receiving counselling – and the results of our study attest to that fact.”

The Catalyst-Clemente study, Addressing Multiple Disadvantage, was funded through an Australian Research Council grant and involved academic partners from Australian Catholic University, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, and the University of Western Australia, in collaboration with Mission Australia and the National Council of St Vincent de Paul.


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