Entry pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students


In 2010, 47.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commencing students entered university on the basis of their prior educational attainment (higher education course, secondary education, or VET award course). The remaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students' entrance was based on mature age special entry, professional qualifications, or other reasons involving an institution's assessment of a prospective student's individual circumstances (the largest percentage). For example, the University of Western Australia (UWA) uses "special ATAR [Australian tertiary admission rank] provisions, enabling courses, and course specific intensive preparatory courses", and 75% of Indigenous students gained entry to this university's undergraduate degrees in this way. By contrast, 83% of all commencing domestic students entered university based on previous educational qualification (Behrendt et al., 2012, p. 49).

Entry via VET

The VET Sector attracts more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students but has a greater emphasis on training and does not provide significant pathway possibilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to university. It could be engaged more effectively to create 'free' bridging programs within the VET sector.

Statistics show that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continuing on to higher education through the VET system has declined since 2006. In 2012, 33.6% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were enrolled in further study six months after completing VET training (35.9% in 2006): 4.9% in university study (8.8% in 2006), and 7.8% for non-Indigenous students (7.4% in 2006); 19.9% at a TAFE institute; and 11.3% with private providers (National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2013). The IHER (2012) highlighted that VET enrolments better reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander "population parity" (p. 40), and suggested reasons for the higher VET levels of study at university such as "method of study, its curricular content, or the career options", and the need to earn money. Geographical location is given as another potential reason, with only 44% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living within one of the 49 cities and towns with a university campus (p. 41).

Reasons given by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate students for undertaking VET training in 2011 were: "employment related outcomes" (81.1%); "further study outcome" (4.4%); and "personal development outcome" (14.5%). However, it appears that VET to higher education is not a strong pathway for most students as only 4.5% of non-Indigenous students indicated reasons for VET enrolment were for further study. In 2011, 79.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VET students completed qualifications at Certificate I, II and III levels; while 20.9% completed qualifications at Certificate IV, diploma, graduate and advanced diploma, associate degree, undergraduate degree and graduate certificate levels (National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2013).

The pathway from VET to universities is complex, with many barriers, for students as well as for education providers, and is not well researched (Bandias et al., 2011; Behrendt et al., 2012). Reasons for selecting VET in preference to university vary, and collaboration rather than competition between sectors may be more fruitful. Dual sector universities (TAFE and university) show some success in 'mapping' TAFE goals onto university degree programs and in transition to university (IHER (2012), pp. 44, 47).

Entry via tertiary entrance

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students entering university through mainstream high school entry represent less than half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university population. This can be increased through many of the available programs aimed at increasing pathways from secondary education. Those who are entering through enabling programs or bridging programs are not receiving ITAS (Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme). There is also a quota system in place whereby enabling centres are only supported to a certain degree, yet appear to enrol larger numbers of students who then do not make a successful transition.

In 2012, 1.2% (3,341) of applicants to university via Tertiary Admissions Centres (TAC) identified as Indigenous (Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, or both), an increase of 407 or 13.9% compared with 2011. Offers were made to 2,520 Indigenous applicants, 311 (14.1%) more than in 2011. The 2012 offer rate for Indigenous applicants was 75.4% which was 6.1% lower than the offer rate for applicants who did not identify as Indigenous. Of those who received an offer in 2012, 71.6% of Indigenous applicants accepted, similar to the 71.8% acceptance rate among non-Indigenous applicants.

Entry via pre-tertiary programs

In 2010, 4.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students entered university on the basis of their prior educational attainment, compared to 83% of non-Indigenous and over half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who gained entry to university did so through enabling or special entry programs (DIISRTE, 2012 quoted in the IHER, p. 49). Most universities in Australia offer pre-tertiary or preparatory programs (see Literature Review for details).

A higher proportion of Indigenous applications was made directly to universities (2.5%), as opposed to applications through Tertiary Admission Centres. DEEWR (2011c) suggested that more applicants entered from Indigenous admission schemes, or pre-tertiary programs, and are therefore more likely to self-identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (p. 62). The option of applying directly to universities was introduced in 2010.

Entry via scholarship programs

Scholarships to university are offered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from universities, governments, non-government and industry sources, for study across a range of disciplines at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (Aurora Project, 2011). Limited data are available on the full numbers of scholarships awarded or on completion rates for scholarship supported study, indicating a need for further research in this area.

Commonwealth-funded Indigenous Access Scholarships provided eligible commencing students with a one off payment of $4,659 in 2013. These scholarships assist Indigenous students from a regional or remote area (according to the Australian Standard Geographic Classification (ASGC) Remoteness Areas classification) to undertake an eligible enabling course, undergraduate course or graduate diploma (or equivalent post graduate course of study) in an area of National Priority (Australia. Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2012b).

To support and increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools, the Governor-General's Indigenous Student Teacher Scholarships are awarded to one teacher education student from each state and territory, offering $25,000 per year in 2010, 2011, 2012 for up to four years, to assist with study costs. The More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) (2012) also provides teaching scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Industry areas such as mining offer tertiary scholarships, for example the AIEF-BHP Billiton Iron Ore scholarships to Indigenous students to study in mining-related disciplines (Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, 2011). Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), a government body, provides scholarships for TAFE, VET and higher education study in the fields of commercial and economic management (Indigenous Business Australia, 2011).

The Aurora Project provides a directory and a website of Indigenous scholarships for study in Australia and beyond (Aurora Project, 2009, 2011). See Literature Review Appendix A for university website scholarship details.