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Clockwise from top left: Ali Yunespour, Rebecca Sparkes, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence, Elaine Henry

The University of Sydney and The Smith Family today renewed their joint commitment to supporting students of promise, with the University pledging more than a quarter of a million dollars to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students.

The two organisations today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work in partnership during 2010-2012 to support disadvantaged children to stay engaged with school, and ultimately have the opportunity to participate in university education.

This is a major aim for both organisations, which has seen a successful alliance between them since 2004 in support of The Smith Family's Learning for Life program.

The Learning for Life program provides financially disadvantaged children with literacy and numeracy support, as well as digital, financial, health and emotional literacy programs so that they can develop skills they need for their life journey.

These programs are enabled through mentoring and tutoring and through a financial scholarship which assists with the costs of essential school expenses.

The program also helps disadvantaged young people make a smooth transition from secondary school into the workplace or tertiary education, with the proportion of students in the program undertaking further education increasing from 21 per cent in 2005 to 50 per cent in 2009.

Identifying students of promise is a major goal for the University of Sydney outlined in its recent Green Paper on future directions. Since its foundation the University has committed to providing educational opportunities on the basis of merit, regardless of social class or financial situation. But the University recognises it could do more to ensure students of promise have an opportunity to study at the University and aspire to do so.

Students from low SES backgrounds are seriously under-represented in Australian higher education so the agreement we are entering into today is an important step forward, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said at the signing.

First-year University of Sydney student Rebecca Sparkes said at the signing that a family illness and financial worries had always made the prospect of going to university seem too daunting to contemplate. However through a relationship with The Smith Family that began when she was in year six, she began to think it might be possible.

Ali Yunespour, 22 is studying a Bachelor of International Studies at the University of Sydney, majoring in Government and Arabic Studies and says too the support from The Smith Family and the University is invaluable.

Ali came to Australia only five years ago from Afghanistan and is the first in his family to attend university. He has a dream of completing a PHD so he can become an educator.

The program helped me three ways - financial, networking and making friends, Ali said.

For me I feel university should no longer be something only for people of advantage - there should be a right to do it in the same way as there is a right to attend high school. That's how important higher education is, I think everyone who wants to do it should be able to and people should explore ways to make that possible.

Education is how you can change your circumstances in life.

The three year 2010-2012 partnership commits the University of Sydney to provide $90,000 per annum to support Learning for Life scholarships for secondary school students who meet The Smith Family's eligibility criteria - which must be students of low income families, and families with a commitment to their child's education.