AEP Goal 5: ATSI student graduation rate

5. Enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to attain the same graduation rates from award courses in higher education as for other Australians.

Your response to this goal needs to address but is not limited to the following points:

  • The total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student completions at Bachelor level and above in 2015, compared to 2014 (please provide an all student comparison).
  • Support mechanisms you have in place to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete their study.
  • Indigenous Education/Support Unit’s role.

Total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student completions at Bachelor level and above in 2015, compared to 2014 (all student comparison)

The totals for ATSI completions at Bachelor level and above (62 in 2014, 41 in 2015) reflect a decrease in completions in postgraduate degrees and overall total for award courses at Bachelor level and above. However, UNE’s strategies to increase access and support for students in Bachelor degrees and postgraduate courses including higher degrees, are expected to improve this trend over the long term. We expect completions to increase in the coming years because the commencing numbers have increased from 286 to 364 from 2014 to 2015. Also because the number of students enrolled in TRACKS has increased dramatically, and the number of students making use of the ITAS program, also point to likely higher completion rates in future years.

In addition to the completion data in the following table, there were completions by ATSI students in courses below Bachelor level (2 in 2014, 7 in 2015).

Comparison data for non-ATSI students includes completions by domestic students only. It is significant that the data for completions by non-ATSI students also indicates a decrease in postgraduate and overall total for award courses. These completions by both ATSI and non-ATSI students may reflect that recent trends in the higher education sector and changes in course offerings by UNE have had an impact on completions by domestic students at UNE, especially in the category of ‘other postgraduate’ courses (including Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma courses).

[Note the 2014 completions exceeded the target of 47 set for all ATSI completions in the Compact. However, we did not meet the target of 49 set for 2015.]

Table 18: Numbers of ATSI degree and postgraduate students, 2014–15

Table 18: Numbers of ATSI degree and postgraduate students, 2014-15



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Higher Degree)



Non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Higher Degree)



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Other postgraduate)



Non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Other postgraduate)



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Bachelor degree)



Non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: (Bachelor degree)



UNE Support mechanisms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

Table 19: UNE support mechanisms for ATSI students

Table 19: UNE support mechanisms for ATSI students

Support mechanisms




Oorala Student Retention Project

HEPP funded project to improve retention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students, including a number of strategies to support academic progress This has led to the development of a retention model specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students working in collaboration/consultation with SA&S.

Funding was secured for a further year to cover 2015.

  • A short video to promote the Retention Project Plan.
  • Recruitment of Aboriginal Engagement Officer (AEO), UNE’s Tamworth   Study Centre
  • A survey was developed to explore how students feel about their   engagement with UNE.
  • A model   comprising of two main parts:
    Intensive case management for facilitating support for students at risk of   early attrition to improve academic success; and
    Building resilience and self-efficacy as learners and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students   – the Oorala Student Support team to implement interventions or approaches   that are student specific and UNE wide.

Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS)

Provides additional academic tutorial assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students; coordinated by Oorala with Commonwealth funding

Scope limited by ITAS funding guidelines and availability of ongoing funding;

Availability of suitable tutors in local areas for off campus students in non-local regions

Intensive promotion and other strategies resulted in increased no. of students tutored (from 58 in 2014 to 62 in 2015) and increase in number of hours for which students were tutored (2330.04 in 2014; 2899.35 in 2015).

The number of ATSI tutors increased from 44 (5 Indigenous) in 2014 to 49 (10 Indigenous) in 2015.

Targeted Library Orientation Sessions

Orientation sessions conducted by Library staff to inform indigenous students about library services and resources. Consultation with Oorala staff to provide sessions designed for indigenous students.

Funding and staff resource limitations

Increased student engagement with the Library; service to be reviewed regularly with Indigenous staff and students.

UNE MATSITI Exploratory Research Project

Funded by the ‘More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative’ (MATSITI), commenced in 2014 by School of Education with Oorala Aboriginal Centre as a project partner, to expand support strategies which aim to improve retention and graduation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students at UNE.

MATSITI Funding guidelines and voluntary student participation

The research phase concluded in 2015, with the final report due for publication in the second quarter of 2016

Student Progress and Success Model Tool

In development by UNE’s Strategy & Planning office, to allow for closer monitoring of trends in rates of retention, progression and completion of particular student cohorts.

Staff resources to complete development work on the Model Tool.

It is anticipated that UNE will be able to interrogate data on ATSI students at the cohort level (i.e. Aboriginal students entering UNE with a specific basis of admission, SES status etc.) to facilitate review and improvement of support mechanisms across the University.

National Indigenous Legal Conference 2015

The School of Law facilitated sponsorship from the NSW Bar Association for two Aboriginal law students (Scott Lindsay and Bryce Wilson) to attend the National Indigenous Legal Conference 2015,
3–4 September in Melbourne (hosted by Tawirri Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria).

The school will be seeking increased sources of sponsorship in 2016.

The students reported that ‘The conference was a chance to engage with some truly inspirational legal advocates and politicians, while also offering an opportunity to network with other Indigenous law students from across the country. The conference was informative and eye-opening about the continued pursuit, and struggle, for legal equality.’

UNE also links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with opportunities such as those offered through the National Indigenous Cadetship Project, which provides paid work placements with government and industry employers for full-time students completing their degree qualifications.

UNE’s agencies for support include the Student Administration & Services’ Student Support Team, Oorala Aboriginal Centre, Special Needs Office and the ‘Help with Homesickness’ homepage providing contacts for assistance.

Oorala Aboriginal Centre’s role – Support mechanisms

Oorala’s initiatives in student support and involvement with UNE to improve graduation rates included:

  • Oorala provides support for TRACKS and TAFE Pathways students, as well as for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in UNE courses. Key elements include Oorala’s orientation and project activities, ITAS tutoring, mentoring, community networks, online support hubs through Moodle and development of a multi-faceted approach collaborating with UNE’s services on engagement and retention.
  • Collaboration with UNE Schools and First Year Advisors to increase the uptake rate of ITAS tutoring and the pool of suitably qualified ITAS tutors, especially where students needed more targeted support such as Health and Law disciplines, or off campus students in remote areas. Promotion of ITAS tutoring through on campus sessions and retention visits resulted in improved uptake rates and outcomes. In 2015, 78% of units receiving ITAS tutoring obtained pass grades or higher.
  • Ongoing advice and support on scholarship and Abstudy matters, intensive schools and clinical placements.
  • Mentoring and socio-cultural support through the Elder-in-Residence/Student Relationship Officer assists student adjustment to university life. This staff member also joined UNE’s Special Needs Contact Network to provide specific support to special needs students and advise on UNE’s Disability Action Plan.
  • ‘Yarn-up’ event for commencing, continuing and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with participation from 12 organisations and UNE service providers, to foster ongoing support networks for student peer groups with services in accommodation, health, careers, financial assistance and academic support.
  • Information sessions by ‘Career Trackers’ and motivational presentation by an Indigenous Educational Ambassador.
  • Event hosted at Oorala linking local community health providers with Aboriginal students in UNE Health awards, to improve arrangements for clinical and work placements.
  • Maintenance of Oorala’s focus on providing a culturally safe place for students, including study and learning facilities, equipment (computers, internet, printing, scanning, copying, etc.) and social spaces.
  • 15 retention and engagement visits to target areas which had shown high attrition rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (North Western NSW and North Coast of NSW). Visits included workshops and face-to-face group or individual support.
  • Continued liaison and collaboration with UNE Schools and Student Administration Services to identify strategies for improved outcomes, and visits to Aboriginal Support Units at other universities to review ‘best practice’ in support. Work with UNE included a focus on admission and enrolment processes, course requirements, advice and advocacy on academic progress issues, liaison with unit coordinators and referrals to specialised support services (first year advisors, Academic Skills Office, counsellors, etc.)
  • Oorala academics were project partners with School of Education in the UNE MATSITI Exploratory Research Project. The Centre’s student support staff provided consultation to the project’s research group to expand support strategies for ATSI teacher education students at UNE with the aim of increasing retention and completion. Surveys and discussion groups were developed and implemented in 2014, with data collection completed in 2015. The report is due for publication in the second quarter of 2016 Oorala’s involvement broadened the School’s awareness of culturally relevant and authentic ways in which to support Indigenous students.
  • An academic from the Oorala Centre was a member of the steering committee for a HEPP-funded project which employed an Indigenous academic and an administrative assistant in the School of Rural Medicine.
  • Oorala also provided input to School of Education on other support methods for education students, e.g. specific orientation initiatives, cultural awareness training for School staff and pathways for AEO’s into education degrees.
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