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History of Foundation Studies

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In the late 1980s, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) saw a surge of interest from international students wanting to study in Australia. This included students whose parents had studied there under the Colombo Plan in the 1960s.  However, many of these students faced challenges adapting to Australian universities, such as different teaching methods and, for some, studying in a second language.

Recognising this need, Ross Woodham, an Administrative Officer at UNSW Sydney proposed a brilliant idea: a preparatory year before university called Foundation Studies. This program would be the first of its kind in Australia.

On July 13, 1988, Ross Woodham embarked on a solo tour across Southeast Asia to promote and build a network of potential students and parents interested in this new educational pathway. UNSW Sydney also formed an advisory committee to oversee this initiative consisting of Leigh Hobbs, Ian Way, Max Schroder, and Ross Woodham himself.

Photographer: Allan West, UNSW Archives CN486/1/7A
UNSW College Timeline graphic UNSW College Timeline graphic

The beginning (1989 – 1992)

Foundation Studies officially kicked off in March 1989, preparing students for university life in Australia. The program not only covered academic subjects but also offered a crash course in English and Australian culture. Students had the option to choose between Commerce or Physical Science streams. Initially located in the undercroft of Goldstein College at UNSW Sydney, the program welcomed a cohort of 142 students from various regions, primarily from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In its early days, the teaching staff had to creatively adapt to unconventional classroom settings, including a makeshift arrangement in the Science Theatre’s dressing room where old vanity dressing tables - complete with mirrors and lights - doubled as staff desks. Shortly after, the program found a new home in the basement of the Unisearch House.

International Student Centre, UNSW Archives S1892/78

Expanding its reach (1993 – 1997)

As Asia’s economies flourished in the mid-90s, so did the demand for studying abroad. Ross Woodham extensively traveled across Asia, not only to enhance the program’s reputation but also lay the groundwork for the program’s expansion beyond Australian shores. 

Between 1993 and 1996, Foundation Studies established its offshore programs in Indonesia (UNIPREP Jakarta), Malaysia (UNSW Foundation Year at KDU), and an English language program at the Maharnakom University of Technology in Thailand. In 1994, a new Arts and Social Science stream was introduced for students who were looking to transition to an Arts and Social Science degree at university. This stream also included a new subject, Australian studies. In 1997, a Design stream also became available to attract students hoping to attain a degree in the Faculty of Built Environment.

Uniprep Indonesia

New challenges and opportunities (1998-2002)

By 1998, Foundation Studies became part of the NewSouth Global Group, cementing its reputation as a viable pathway to leading universities in Australia and worldwide. This program also launched a 12-month Standard Plus program (instead of 9 months) which included additional English and academic skill support, catering to the needs of an emerging market from China. 

Despite the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, Foundation Studies achieved a record enrolment of 1,066 students in 2001.

Record enrolment - International Student Centre

"Having watched Foundation Studies develop and evolve over the years, it's impressive to see how it's become embedded within the program of the university. And while pathway programs have become more and more mainstream, with diplomas and other developments in education, the program is truly an integral part of the university's international offering. 

The success of our students has proved the value of the program. When they start their degrees, they already have the experience of being on campus, being a little more independent, and they're a settled and committed group."  

Jon Ireland
Foundation Studies Academic Director 1999-2007, Principal and Group Executive 2007-2013 

L5 Building

Continuing excellence (2003-2007)

The early 2000s marked new beginnings. In 2005, Foundation Studies moved to a new home in the L5 building adjacent to the UNSW Sydney main entrance on Anzac Parade. This move not only provided a dedicated space but also placed students near university facilities including libraries, gyms, and student organisations. 

During this time, Foundation Studies also focused on providing additional support for its younger students. In 2005, guardianship arrangements were made for international students under 18, coinciding with the grand opening of Unilodge at Lorne Avenue, Kensington. 

Overseas, offshore programs in China also began operating in cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing. 

In 2007, Foundation Studies added a Transition program, an intensive 4-month course for students who narrowly missed direct entry to university. That same year, Jon Ireland took over from Roger Alexander as the new Director of Foundation Studies and NewSouth Global Group, changing its name to UNSW Global.  

"Students here feel like they're at university right from the start - we call it Year Zero at uni. We teach them as young adults by teaching a university method. Most importantly, we don't just want to get them into university, we want them to do well at university. I can see the difference in the Foundation undergraduate students I teach on campus - they go into that first year with a high level of confidence, as well as vital study, thinking and presentation skills.”

Phil Gibbs
Former Head of Commerce, Foundation Studies

Global community of learners (2008-2014)

By 2008, all universities in Australia had started to offer a foundation studies program for their international students. But UNSW Global had firmly established itself as a leader in preparatory education. 

Between 2010 to 2014, UNSW Global evolved by introducing new technology upgrades and the Academic Advisor program for its students to further enhance their academic learning experience. By 2014, offshore programs in China also reached 10 locations, marking its success beyond Australia. 

Initially, UNSW Global attracted students mainly from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia but as the program’s reputation grew, it started to attract a wider and more diverse student body.

A legacy of success (2015– 2024)

Reflecting on its journey, UNSW Global, now UNSW College has consistently tailored its pathway programs to better meet the needs of its students. In 2018, it introduced the Diploma program to support high-achieving students in advancing to the second year of university within 12 months.

In 2023, UNSW Global changed its name to UNSW College to signify its progression as a recognised higher education provider and to reflect its commitment to providing diverse learning opportunities for students.

Since then, UNSW College has broadened its offerings by launching the Pre-Masters Program in 2024, providing students with a pathway to postgraduate studies at UNSW Sydney. UNSW College maintains its position as the premier provider of Foundation Studies pathways to university, boasting the largest program in Australia and the highest number of Foundation student enrolments offshore at TNE centers. Currently, there are 22 campuses overseas, including new locations in Japan and Korea.

Looking forward

Celebrating 35 years of excellence, Foundation Studies remains dedicated to providing exceptional education that prepares students for success at university and beyond. Since its establishment in 1989, it has witnessed over 50,000 students graduate – fostering a global community of learners connected by their shared experiences and aspirations. UNSW College now offers a range of pathway programs including Foundation Studies, Diplomas, Pre-Masters, and English language courses, which are all designed to prepare students to thrive at university. One thing remains, UNSW College is here to continue to shape the future of education, one student at a time.

“As an education provider we continue to evolve and challenge ourselves to deliver a variety of quality programs that will cater for our students' needs now and into the future.”

Sarah Lightfoot
CEO of UNSW College

UNSW Global Pty Limited ABN 62 086 418 582 trading as UNSW College™.

Diploma & Foundation Studies
UNSW College™ currently delivers Diplomas and Foundation Studies on behalf of UNSW Sydney - CRICOS Provider Code 00098G; UNSW Sydney TEQSA Provider ID: PRV12055 (Australian University). From 26 August 2024, UNSW College™ will commence delivery of Diplomas under its own CRICOS Provider Code - 01020K and TEQSA Provider ID: PRV13020 (Institute of Higher Education). From  13 January 2025, UNSW College™ will commence delivery of Foundation Studies under its own CRICOS Provider Code - 01020K and TEQSA Provider ID: PRV13020 (Institute of Higher Education).

From 6 May 2024, UNSW College™ will commence delivery of the Pre-Masters Program under CRICOS Provider Code 01020K and TEQSA Provider ID: PRV13020 (Institute of Higher Education).

Academic English
UNSW College™ delivers Academic English under CRICOS Provider code 01020K. See unswcollege.edu.au/esos for more information.

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