Bridging the gap between Indigenous students and university education opportunities

26 March 2014

Aspirational and mentoring programs are helping reverse the trend of low university enrolment rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, a report led by The University of Notre Dame Australia's Nulungu Research Institute has found.

Titled 'Can't be what you can't see: the transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to higher education', the report finds that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to boosting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education numbers.

However, the engagement of new technologies and Indigenous youth culture in the dissemination of information, development of mentoring programs, and sharing of skills and knowledge between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has the potential to increase an Indigenous student's readiness to undertake university studies.

The report will be officially launched at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Conference in Canberra on Thursday 27 March 2014. It will be unveiled by the Director of the National Indigenous Congress of Australia's First Peoples, Rod Little.

Funded by the Australian Government's Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT), this research is a collaboration between Notre Dame's Nulungu Research Institute, Southern Cross University, and the Bachelor Institute of Tertiary Education at Charles Darwin University.

The report builds on the foundations of the Indigenous Higher Education Review 2012 which highlighted the need to develop new and sustainable pathways to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Through an examination of qualitative and quantitative evidence, the report explores the nuances, challenges, opportunities and different perspectives of what constitutes 'successful' transition to higher education from a range of Indigenous community contexts and diverse university settings.

"The six specific groups of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population we've identified as being under-represented in relation to higher education are women as primary carers; young men; prisoners; students from remote areas; students not making the transition from VET studies; and people with disabilities," Senior Researcher in the Nulungu Research Institute, Stephen Kinnane, said.

"It is our hope that this research can provide a platform for government action into this significant area of need in Australia to ensure our future generations have best possible opportunity to succeed in life, both personally and professionally."

One of the project's chief investigators and Notre Dame Adjunct Professor, Patrick Dodson, said that despite significant effort and public policy attention, Australia's tertiary education institutions attract Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at alarmingly low rates.

"Much more must be done in the vital area of Indigenous participation and achievement in higher education if the shocking economic and social disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is to be overcome at the national level," Associate Professor Dodson said.

"The strength of this report is that it captures the findings of previous reviews and turns them into plans for action. It reveals a host of partnerships, strategies, and new pathways that have been developed within the past three years to enhance the transition of Indigenous students to higher education.

"The report also has relevance for policy makers within governments for the right public policy settings which are fundamentally important to support the much needed work within universities."

To download a copy of the report, please visit

Interview contacts:
Professor Keith McNaught, Executive Director and Head of Notre Dame's Broome Campus
Bruce Gorring, Acting Director of the Nulungu Research Institute
Adjunct Professor Lyn Henderson-Yates (Notre Dame)
Adjunct Professor Patrick Dodson (via his PA, Jane Cunningham)
Dr Judith Wilks (Southern Cross University)
Rod Little (National Indigenous Congress)

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;