For many students, the first year of university is tough! The learning curve can be steep regardless of whether you are straight out of high school or you are returning to study.  The Science Faculty at Monash University recognises that each individual faces different challenges and provides a variety of support services to address those needs.

In 2011, the Science Faculty received Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program funding from the Government to support low socioeconomic status (SES) students in their studies at university. We saw this as an opportunity to supplement our existing learning centres (all providing free tutoring) and create new ones so that we could provide this service to all 1st year students in each of our five schools.

Photos of our Geosciences learning centre in action
Importantly we also wanted the tutors in the learning centres to provide pastoral care offering further support beyond assistance just with academic content (figure 1). Pastoral care is especially important for low SES students because these students are often the first in their family to attend university. These students may lack social and cultural capital in the university environment, which can negatively impact their success in their studies.

Figure 1. Academic support and pastoral care provided through our science learning centres 

I want to share a story that illustrates how our free tutoring service can help distressed first-year students in their transition to university.

Many students don’t proactively seek support from our tutors, but one student that stands out to me had been waiting for an opportunity like this after failing some of her first units. This student was very hard-working, but despite her best efforts she found studying at university much more difficult than her preparatory TAFE courses and she started to doubt her abilities. Being a refugee, this student often expressed how lucky she felt to be able to attend university in Australia. She also showed an enormous passion for learning and because of this it was inspiring to see how much she wanted to make a difference in the world. She felt that her education was the key to achieving her dreams.

After an initial conversation she decided to attend one and eventually all three of the learning centres for her science units. After a lot of hard work from her and the tutors who assisted her, she passed all of her units that semester. That was a huge confidence boost for her to know that she had the capacity to achieve her goals. Perhaps an even greater success was the fact that while she was reluctant to speak to her lecturers in her first year fearing she would be wasting their time, her attitude changed during her second year. She realised people wanted to help her to succeed and her confidence enabled her to talk to her lecturers regularly and seek help when needed.

This is one of many success stories of the learning centres but this one (perhaps because it was one of the first) continues to inspire me to work in education. From the feedback we receive each semester we know the tutoring service is helping hundreds of first-year students in small ways and in large.

If you are interested in learning more about the logistical side (costs, format, hours of operation etc.) of how our learning centres work please contact me.

Further reading:

Devlin, M., Kift, S., Nelson, K., Smith, L.,& McKay, J. (2012) Effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds: Resources for Australian higher education. Retrieved from

Carmen Yan is the HEPPP Project Officer and Student Experience Coordinator in the Faculty of Science. She is the coordinator of the Faculty of Science Learning Centres and works closely with academic staff from each of the science schools to support first-year students and in particular those who from a low SES background. Carmen can be found on Google+ and invites you to add her to your ‘circles’.