With the help of the UNSW ASPIRE program, mining engineer Ateeq-ur Rahman is the first in his family to earn a degree, but his dream of attending university nearly didn’t eventuate.

In 2011, after completing year 10 in his native Pakistan, Ateeq-ur Rahman came to Australia with a plan to finish high school. However, initially speaking no English and with money being quite tight, university was a faraway dream.

His father had travelled to Australia 12 years earlier – a relocation necessitated by financial hardship. “He had to make a decision to support his family,” Ateeq says. So he moved overseas to Sydney, where he could earn money as a taxi driver and send it home with a favourable exchange rate.

It was challenging: “We grew up behind our dad’s eyes… he couldn’t see us,” recalls Ateeq. Coming to Australia was a welcome reunion, but the transition was difficult and the pressure of supporting a “very extended family” in Pakistan weighed on Ateeq, even as a teenager.

He felt compelled to find full-time work to help his father shoulder the burden. “I came very close to dropping out of school,” he recalls. It was around that time, while attending Holroyd High School near Parramatta, that Ateeq was introduced to UNSW’s award-winning ASPIRE program.

ASPIRE partners with schools that have low numbers of students progressing to university, with the aim of creating awareness among young people about the pathways to higher education. Through workshops, academic skills and enrichment programs, ASPIRE serves to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to reach their potential and access university education.

Nobody in Ateeq’s family had been to university or knew anything about the process for applying, getting accepted, or getting funding assistance through the HECS-HELP loan scheme. It was a mystery, and Ateeq had assumed it was going to be too expensive. ASPIRE helped him realise that university was within reach.

It wasn’t a fluke that Ateeq found his way onto ASPIRE’s radar; he aced his first-term year 11 exams, topping biology and chemistry, and getting excellent results in mathematics. “I guess that was a turning point for me,” he says.

He was selected by the Principal of Holroyd, Mrs Dorothy Hoddinott AO, to take part in ASPIRE’s Step-Up program – a three-day workshop at UNSW’s Kensington campus. Ateeq participated in group activities,
attended lectures, met university staff, and worked directly with ASPIRE’s volunteer ambassadors, who made a lasting impression on him.

From there, Ateeq renewed his focus on school, excelling in STEM subjects while practising his English. With guidance from ASPIRE he applied for university, and was offered a position at UNSW Sydney to study mining engineering.

Throughout his time at UNSW, Ateeq has volunteered as an ASPIRE ambassador, keen to give back to the organisation that helped him realise his potential. He wants donors to know their financial support “is not gone with the wind.”

“It’s going to the right place… especially students coming from a migrant or refugee background. They really need that support.” Ateeq has just finished his thesis investigating floor stability in underground mines, and will soon begin a graduate job in the Hunter Valley with Glencore Australia.

He’s excited about the opportunity, and is thrilled to be the first in his family to obtain a university education – something that seems to have ignited an encouraging trend. Ateeq’s younger sister is now following in his footsteps, studying to become a teacher.

“I guess I brought in that family tradition,” he says. “My parents are very happy now, I can see it. I can see it on their faces.”

ASPIRE began as a pilot project with two Sydney high schools in 2007 and its network has since grown to include 54 primary, secondary and central schools in Sydney and across regional and remote NSW. The successful program has been supported by the Federal Government, Citi Foundation, Google and many individual donors. This funding is instrumental to the continuing growth and impact of the program on ASPIRE partner schools’ students.


For a full copy of the 2017 Donor Impact Report, click here.