Sydney Uni mentoring program a 'waste of resources'

A new program at the University of Sydney will see its brightest senior students running mentoring groups for top performing high school graduates, with critics saying it is a "waste of resources" that doesn't "provide the opportunity to students who need it most".

From next year, incoming students with an ATAR score above 98, and first year uni students with an average grade above 80 per cent, will be invited to join the University's Dalyell Scholars Program.

The Dalyell Scholars program will give students the chance to undertake additional units in "Great Books" and access "enrichment opportunities", including acceleration to master's level study and a "tailored mentoring and professional skill development to enhance your study and career opportunities", an email sent to high-achieving older students in the Faculty of Arts said.

According to Murdoch University Associate Professor Dr Laura Perry, it's clear initiatives like the Dalyell Scholars program are less about equity and enrichment, and more about "trying to compete with other elite universities for these high achieving students".

In the University of Sydney's ad for the program, Associate Professor Rae Cooper says it is "really aiming at attracting the best and brightest graduates into the university".

An email told students they had been "nominated" as a Dalyell mentor and invited them to volunteer for an all-day training event so they could run mentor groups of three high-achieving undergraduates next year.

Students of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent may be able to access individual or group tuition from older peers employed at the University through its "Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme".

The University told the Herald there are "a wide variety of peer mentoring programs and academic skills workshops on offer for all students, including those from disadvantaged background". They also said the Dalyell stream will have "separate entry pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students" and those applying through alternative admissions pathways.

But aside from general peer groups run during Orientation week and a few weeks in semester one, there are no mentoring initiatives run by the University of Sydney like the Dalyell Scholar Program that specifically cater to women, first-in-family, disabled or low SES students, or students from regional Australia.

Dr Perry, who has written extensively on educational inequalities, says a mentoring program for high-achievers is "a waste of resources".

"From an equity point of view we should be providing these opportunities to the people who need it most," she said.

"If a student is admitted to the University of Sydney, they are obviously going pretty well academically anyway. Mentoring, here, is more about enrichment, about opening up networks and building opportunities. Obviously, [the University] aren't worrying about these kids staying in school."

"I would imagine that someone who went to an elite high school or a selective school probably already has a very good network.

"If it was an issue of 'let's make sure that we can really maximise potential and maximise opportunity for all of our students', it would be better to focus on students from public schools in country towns who are very bright, but who don't have those kinds of networks and connections and cultural knowledge because, for those kids, going to an elite university can be intimidating."

Perry says she would "love to see universities, including elite ones, do a little bit more to look beyond ATAR scores and who they admit".

This story Sydney Uni mentoring program a 'waste of resources' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.