Children's University turns 10

The first graduates of Children's University 2013

The first graduates of Children's University, 2013

Inspiring young people for a decade

Growing up, Dua Anees always knew she wanted to attend university.

“When I was young, I’d watch cartoons that emphasised the importance of doctors and nurses. I always knew I wanted to be in a medical-related field and serve my community like that, too.”

Self-described as someone “fascinated by human anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology”, Dua is currently completing her final year of a Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Adelaide.

“I love it here because there are so many opportunities,” says the twenty-year-old, who moved from Pakistan to Australia when she was ten. “My cousins back in my home country have the knowledge, but there isn’t the same level of opportunities there, especially for girls.”

In addition to the ache of leaving close family members behind, Dua faced new challenges to her childhood university dream when she started school in a new country.

“I’d already learned English back home, however we didn’t communicate in it, so when I came here, I started to focus more on my English and writing, and I ended up neglecting my own language. I don’t like telling my cousins back home that I don’t know how to write, it’s embarrassing! But of course, I still speak fluently.”

When describing herself as a high school student, Dua says she was “really shy” and an introvert. “My confidence, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities were not where I wanted them to be.”

It was at this time that an initiative called Children’s University came to visit her high school, Roma Mitchell Secondary College, and Dua saw a pathway forward to help her overcome her challenges.

“I learned about Children’s University during our assembly,” Dua says. “Sally, the speaker, described the program, and I was immediately enthralled.”

Dua signed up for the Children’s University Passport to Volunteering program designed to help high-school students gain leadership and communication skills through volunteering opportunities.

“Before I started with Children’s University, I didn’t like to try new things or new experiences,” Dua says. “But the program helped me gain so much confidence. I was even brave enough to try for my first job at McDonald’s and I’ve continued working ever since while I study.”

Children’s University was initially founded to support young people on their learning journeys because, unlike Dua, not every child has a clear picture of what their future might hold.

Although many of us would like to believe that higher education is accessible for everyone – regardless of geographical location, situation, or background – that’s not always the case. It can be difficult for some young people to envision a future at university, particularly if no one in their family has ever attended one.

This is where Children’s University steps in, to educate young people about future possibilities. In 2023 the initiative is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

Dua Anees inside the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building

Dua Anees inside the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building

“The program was officially launched in October 2013, and in the decade since Children’s University has grown from collaborating with just one participating school to working with 164 schools across South Australia, and more than 518 schools nationally,” says Kiri Hagenus, Managing Director of Children’s University.

“Children’s University, in essence, is a widening participation initiative that focuses on inspiring students to think about their futures differently.The ultimate aim is to encourage more students, particularly from marginalised communities, to apply and enrol in higher education.

“Essentially, we want to build the paths and remove the roadblocks so that every child and young person has the opportunity to succeed on their learning journey.”

In addition to the Passport to Volunteering program – which Dua praises so highly – Children’s University also presents a Passport to Learning initiative.

Designed for primary school students, children are invited to take part in fun learning activities and knowledge-gathering 

field trips, visiting locations such as museums, gardens, wildlife sanctuaries and libraries.

“Every learning destination should have a link to higher education,” explains Kiri. “For instance, a visit to a sports club will include information about sports engineering, physiotherapy, management, teaching, and sciences, just to name a few.”

Every year, her staff hosts graduation ceremonies at the grand Bonython Hall on the University of Adelaide North Terrace campus. Proud parents attend in droves.

In a mirror of real higher education graduations – complete with speeches, certificates, and fancy robes – the kids receive a fun taste of university life and experience what it might feel like to achieve their academic dreams.

Dua has volunteered her time on multiple occasions to act as Master of Ceremonies for these graduations.

“It was my first experience of getting up and speaking in front of a big crowd,” she says. “Once I’d achieved it, I felt really good about myself.”

Children’s University Australasia and Africa is managed by the University of Adelaide and has grown into an immensely successful initiative.

“Our program has supported 28,429 young, happy participants to graduate across metropolitan and regional Australia,” says Kiri. “It’s about changing young people’s lives and showing them how to carve a new future in ways they may have previously not thought possible.”

For Dua, the merits of Children’s University are clear. As she draws near the end of her degree and her transition into professional practice, she credits the program for the positive impact it has had on her life.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to become more socially aware and gain experience in the community. I strongly believe that participating has helped me grow towards adulthood.”

It’s about changing young people’s lives and showing them how to carve a new future in ways they may have previously not thought possible.

Dua hopes a new generation of kids will be inspired by Children’s University to pursue their dreams.

“Education is important,” she says. “It opens doors to different opportunities in life. It helps you grow.”

And every young person deserves to grow.

To learn more about Children’s University and support its initiatives, click here

Story by Poppy Nwosu, Media Officer for the University of Adelaide and also a published author of multiple novels.

Tagged in lumen, lumen spring summer 2023, alumni, children's university