Bernie Goldie

Early Start promises to break cycle of educational disadvantage

The Federal Government today announced funding for a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative which, in a world first collaborative scheme, will deliver a new generation of graduates to work with young children aged from 0-12.

The $44 million Early Start inter-disciplinary project, to be based in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong (UOW), will receive $31 million in funding through the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF). The remaining funding is coming from a philanthropic gift of $7 million from a private donor – representing the biggest single donation ever made to UOW with the University providing the balance.

The donation has come from the Founder and Director of the Abbott Foundation, Mr Christopher Abbott, AM. In a supporting submission to the government for the project, Mr Abbott said that he has a “strong philosophical belief in the importance of encouraging children to develop an interest in learning at a very young age”. He created the Abbott Foundation in 2009 with the express purpose of supporting ventures that provide learning opportunities for young children which will promote their interest and capabilities for further education.

Member for Cunningham Sharon Bird, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills, announced the funding today (22 November) at UOW with her parliamentary colleague Stephen Jones, the Member for Throsby.

“This is a very exciting announcement for Stephen and me . . . close to both our hearts,” Ms Bird said. “It is a tremendous project, and we’ve been working on it for a number of years.”

She and Mr Jones congratulated UOW for having a successful project in each of the four rounds of EIF funding, following the Smart Infrastructure Facility ($35 million), AIIM II Facility ($43.8 million) and the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre ($25.1 million).

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, CBE, described the announcement as a “red letter day for the University”.

“This is a really significant project for the University and for Australia,” Professor Wellings said. “It will be the largest centre in the world for engaging in the process of dealing with social disadvantage.

Professor Wellings said the project will radically transform educational, health and social outcomes for children in regional, rural and remote communities. Early Start will respond directly on the early years of life and the social and economic value of providing resources to disadvantaged children, their families and capacity build communities.

“Early Start is the only concrete long term and sustainable proposal that can systemically break the cycle of educational disadvantage,” Professor Wellings said. “It’s a transformational project … that will create life opportunities for young Australians.”

Professor Wellings paid special tribute to the Federal Government and its EIF Board for their recognition of the importance of this overall project, Ms Bird and Mr Jones for their support, and to Mr Abbott for his donation and support for the project.

“Mr Abbott’s contribution is one of the largest donations ever made to a non-Group of 8 university in Australia. It is certainly the largest donation to UOW. That is great for the region.”

Professor Wellings said it was important that regional organisations and industries looked at how they could contribute to the project to make it even more influential.

He also paid tribute to Dean of Education Professor Paul Chandler, who had driven the project from its outset.

He said other bodies that should be acknowledged included the NSW Government’s Department of Family and Community Services, NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC), TAFE Illawarra and the Catholic Education Office. Many early childcare services were pivotal to the success including Aboriginal Early Childhood Support and Learning, Barnados, Big Fat Smile, Illawarra Area Child Care, Jervis Bay School and many independent services. Bellambi Point Pre School was instrumental in providing a ‘live’ pilot for testing of the capabilities of the project.

Professor Chandler expressed his “deep gratitude” to Ms Bird and Mr Jones for believing in the project.

“It is based on one solid view: that every child in Australia deserves the best early start to life,” Professor Chandler said. “Australia has many successes but not every child has had the same opportunities.

“This centre will be leading Australia in teaching, research and in community engagement in the early stages of life.”

The funding will allow the development of the Early Start Facility to be located on UOW’s main campus. It will include specialist teaching and research spaces, a Children’s Discovery Centre and the hub for Early Start Engagement Centres (ESECs). The overall facility -- due to open in 2015 -- will feature a three-level building with a gross floor area of 9188 square metres.

The Children’s Discovery Centre, expected to draw 120,000 children and their families from across Australia a year, will provide more than 2000 square metres of activity/exhibit space, outdoor exploration courtyards and discovery galleries supported by administrative and technical facilities.

The Facility will connect an initial 38 ESECs across NSW. Located primarily in areas of disadvantage, the 38 childcare and community centres are active participants that have significantly contributed to the Facility design and provided the critical geographical reach.

It will deliver innovative teaching programs, conduct multidisciplinary research and capacity build communities through targeted parental and family engagement, nutrition and health.

The Facility will provide increased educational opportunities for tertiary students in regional, rural and remote areas. The infrastructure will use sophisticated technologies to expand access to, and enable delivery of, new and enriched courses that have a strong labour market demand.

“These factors will motivate an increasing number of students across NSW in particular to remain in, or return to, regional locations following completion of their studies,” according to UOW Dean of Education Professor Paul Chandler who has played the lead role in establishing Early Start.

As Professor Chandler points out: “Early Start has a bold but simple mission – that is to ensure all young children, their families and communities have the opportunity to be the best they can be”.

See the following website for further details --

And see UOW-TV report at

For separate UOW-TV interviews see the following links:


  • An artist’s impression of part of the proposed Early Start Facility

  • Professor Paul Chandler highlights the planned development to (from left) Stephen Jones, MP, UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings and Sharon Bird, MP

  • Professor Paul Chandler, who played the lead role in helping to establish Early Start, pictured with his wife Michelle and children Tahnee and Jed