A landmark national strategy to lift the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education has been welcomed by the University of New England (UNE), which has independently been pursuing the same goal.
Universities across Australia will now work together as they strive to grow the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled by 50 per cent above the growth rate of non-Indigenous student enrolment.
The Universities Australia’s Indigenous Strategy 2017-2020 also sets a target of equal success and completion rates for Indigenous students compared to non-Indigenous students in the same fields of study over the next decade.
UNE’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan, welcomed the initiative as an important piece of the complex challenge that confronts the higher education sector in its efforts to address indigenous disadvantage.
“UNE has built indigenous education and employment into its strategic planning for many years, and we have had some success,” Prof. Duncan said.
“We have had year-on-year increases in indigenous student enrolments. Indigenous students now represent three percent of our student population – not enough, in our view, but an improvement on the national figures, which show that indigenous people only make up 1.6 per cent of university domestic student enrolments.” (Indigenous people comprise 2.7 per cent of Australia’s working age population.)
“We also employ 45 indigenous people in academic and non-academic roles across the university. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy was developed to build on these numbers.”
Prof. Duncan said the national collaboration between universities to lift indigenous participation in higher education would be an important milestone for the sector.
“UNE’s support of indigenous people has given us an appreciation of the challenges they face. Indigenous disadvantage has deep, complicated roots. We are delighted when we enrol an indigenous student, but we understand that for many, there are other non-academic hurdles to clear before they can take their degree.”
“If we can work together across the university sector, sharing knowledge and expertise, we should build the sector’s capacity to support these students through to completion of their degree. Hopefully, those graduates in turn will be able to be role models for their communities, creating a virtuous cycle that encourages others to consider a university education.”
Universities Australia confirmed that achieving the strategy’s targets would rely on strong partnerships between universities, Indigenous communities and Government. Continued funding for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program will also be crucial.
The strategy was developed in close consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium (NATSIHEC).
The consortium’s Chair, Professor Peter Buckskin – a Narungga man from South Australia – said he saw the strategy as a way to make Indigenous success core business in higher education.
“Aspiration and substance are crucial to this endeavour. We will work together to ensure that the promise of the Indigenous Strategy has tangible outcomes,” he said.
The strategy will be launched at the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference dinner at the Great Hall in Parliament House tonight.
Speakers at the event include Kungarakan Elder and University of Canberra Chancellor Dr Tom Calma, acclaimed film director and Arrernte woman Rachel Perkins, and Gumbaynggirr woman and Melbourne University PhD student, Lilly Brown.
- UNE Indigenous Education Statement 2015: http://www.une.edu.au/documents/oorala/2016-indigenous-education-statement
- UNE Aboriginal and Torres Strait Employment Strategy: http://www.une.edu.au/staff-current/human-resources/atsi-emplyment/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-employment-strategy