Key Enablers to Transition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students to higher education
Future models for Indigenous Knowledge centres at universities
Many respondents spoke of the need to develop Indigenous support centres and Indigenous Knowledge Centres so that Indigenous Knowledges and cultural competency are the focus and student support is one element of a central place (and academic space) where students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, can engage with important Indigenous issues, share experiences and contribute to the wider life of the university. This would also enable Indigenous centres to operate as the drivers of change across a whole of university approach. These are some examples of Indigenous Knowledge centres.
The Australian Centre of Indigenous Knowledges and Education (ACIKE) is a partnership between Charles Darwin University (CDU) and BIITE and its role is to engage students, staff members and communities in education. However, it has only been in operation since 2012 and is still negotiating the partnership arrangements between the two Institutions and establishing its role and position within the community. A senior Indigenous educator noted that the University of Canberra's model of an IEU being embedded right across the university and the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledges Frameworks across the disciplines is excellent.
At the University of Newcastle (UoN) course review committees each have an Indigenous representative to ensure Indigenous Knowledges are embedded in the various teaching programs. To support the academic staff members developing a new curriculum, personnel from the Woolotuka Institute meet with the various Heads of School to ensure that the Indigenous representative's recommendations are embedded into the curriculum. This approach ensures that Indigenous information is not just "dumped" thoughtlessly into in courses, but is properly integrated with meaning, purpose, perspective, and context.
At The University of Sydney, a strong belief has been espoused that it is no longer effective to have just a first year unit in cultural understandings (e.g. a foundation unit). Such an arrangement relies upon just a few teachers, and doesn't disseminate Indigenous perspectives throughout the basic structures of the university. This University is aiming to try to change "everyone's cultural competencies so that they respect the 'other'. At one regional university, a respondent expressed a belief that a diversity of Aboriginal perspectives needs to be built into all courses rather than providing common foundation units in Indigenous Knowledges for all students. The respondent queried: "Can you really assume a common Indigenous perspective? Common foundation units can often lead to a hopeless dilution".
The Indigenous Education Policy at UTS includes the valuing of Indigenous Knowledges as part of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be imbedded in promotion and development processes. UTS was completing an audit in 2011/2012, directly funded by the Vice-Chancellor, to evaluate to what extent Indigenous Knowledges are being applied and what Indigenous content is being included. Thus far UTS have avoided focusing on Indigenous Knowledge across the disciplines and have been focused on governance, targets and relationships to support students.
The key focus at UTS is to develop professionals who have cultural competency to apply the skills they develop at UTS and beyond. It was noted that this will vary in context but what they study needs to be directly related to what they will do with their skills, and so Indigenous Knowledges need to be utilised and facilitated in the specific ways it relates to these disciplines. Some elements, it is believed, will involve knowledge about country and environment or governance, while other aspects that are often called Indigenous Knowledges are actually about Indigenous history, politics and society.
The importance of cultural competency training
A number of respondents underlined the distinction that 'cultural awareness' is about the individual, whereas 'cultural competency' is about the system. Cultural competency training of both academic and professional staff members needs to be ongoing and tied to the embedding of Indigenous Knowledges across a university. This will help all relevant staff members keep up to date with key debates and issues relating to their disciplines, and that knowledge and competencies are embedded and developed across the curriculum (all faculties, all courses) in a scaffolded and progressive manner that aligns with the new AQF Levels of Learning.
At the University of Newcastle, all academic and professional staff members must take part in a cultural competency program (for academic staff members, it focuses on inclusive curriculum). The first stage is online and the second stage consists of face-to-face workshops. During the second stage, students talk to staff members about their university experiences, enabling staff members to share their journeys and how they got there. There is also a sharing between students and staff members of cultural safety aspects. The Elders in Residence assist in these processes and are guest lecturers across the University in a wide range of courses. There is university-wide discussion about these processes, including an overview of cultural competency across the university from the individual/team/faculty/whole of university perspective. Participants must develop action plans about the changes they will make in their own practices when they leave the workshop, and there is follow up via the University's online learning environment.
At The University of Sydney there has recently been a major review of cultural competency aspects and currently a strategic plan is being developed. One aspect of this plan concerns not only increasing their numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but also increasing Indigenous cultural exposure for all students and staff members. All the Deans have agreed to put money into the Wingara Mura-bunga Barrabugu integrated strategy, and are required to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are integrated across the entire curriculum in all faculties. Every faculty is writing a plan about how they will implement the strategy i.e. who will do what and when, and how to tie the funding to implement the actions described to the efficacy (focus and precision) of the plans. All academic and professional staff members (approximately 10,000 people) must at some point over the next four years take part in a cultural competency workshop or they won't be eligible for promotion. The university is setting up the National Centre for Cultural Competence. The slogan is "Aboriginal education is everyone's business". It is anticipated that this strategy will have beneficial effects across all areas of the university's curricula.
Mentoring for success and monitoring for targeted support
Mentoring Programs are having a significant impact on young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by lifting their expectations of higher education. Some of these programs include: AIME, AURORA, NASCA, and Stronger Smarter. Another significant program is The Toorong Marnong Higher Education Accord (TMHEA), a joint initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI) and the Victorian Vice-Chancellors' Committee (VCCC).
The TMHEA is a support program across Victorian universities in which academic staff members give advice to prospective students on university acceptance as they understand the university processes and give university related advice to the community and students' families when required.
In addition to these programs, The Bridges to Higher Education program (Sydney, Follow the Dream, Partnerships to Success) and the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) contribute to improving Indigenous students' university experiences. These programs seek to change the culture from one of being helped as an individual student who stumbles into university, to being part of a culture of change in terms of outcomes and expectations, and as part of a generational change in Indigenous education and transition to higher education.
"Bridges to Higher Education is a $21.2m initiative, funded by the Commonwealth Government's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), to improve the participation rates of students from communities under-represented in higher education" (Bridges to Higher Education 2013, http://www.bridges.nsw.edu.au/). The aim of this initiative is for all universities in Sydney and the University Admissions Centre, local government organisations, education offices, Indigenous organisations and other community, philanthropic and social enterprise organisations, to plan how to increase retention rates for lower socio-economic (LSE), mature aged and Indigenous students. Bridges will conduct a promotional road show of Sydney universities through regional NSW to encourage school leavers to enrol in university.
AIME (Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) is an Indigenous initiative that uses structured education-based mentoring to link university students in one-on-one relationships with Indigenous high school students from Years 7 to 12. The program partners with high schools and universities to increase progression of Indigenous students through to Year 12 and on to university. It includes mentoring sessions for Years 9 and 10; Years 11 and 12 leadership programs; tutoring in learning centres in schools; and outreach visits to universities for Indigenous students in Years 9 to 12 (AIME Mentoring, 2011).
AIME contacts coordinators at Indigenous Education Units at universities and requests permission to contact staff members and Indigenous students. AIME's goal is to share information and to enhance ITAS and other available programs. AIME is particularly keen to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as mentors within the program once they have settled into their own studies at university. AIME achieves greatest success where an IEU collaborates with the faculties. The University of Sydney and Wollongong University (UOW) are examples of institutions that are support with this approach, including utilising their education faculties as venues. This is not to say that AIME is the best fit for all universities. Macquarie University has started a program similar to AIME.
A key AIME respondent described AIME as a high expectations program:
When reporting we say to the kids, 'you have to come to all the sessions. No use coming to a few'. Of the 780 who participated in 2012 about 566 students achieved the minimum 50% grade, so over half of the students were passing their exams and achieving where they may not have. We expect they can achieve and they learn that they can and do.
AIME is now at 21 universities and there are plans to develop online versions of AIME for students in remote areas. AIME continues to grow and is a very successful mentoring and aspirations building program. For example, at UOW in 2012 there were 2,000 enquiries from students and staff members to be mentors. At The University of Sydney, 200 students work with AIME.
The Aurora Project was established to address the recruitment and retention of staff members working at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs). It partners with the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, universities, governments and philanthropic organisations. The Aurora Project also develops projects aimed at improving educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians. The Aspiration Initiative (TAI) is a residential academic enrichment program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander secondary day students with high academic achievement and those with high potential but who may be at risk of underachieving.
Yalari is a non-profit organisation that provides scholarships for Indigenous students from regional, rural and remote communities throughout Australia to attend 29 boarding schools around Australia to complete their education to Year 12. Yalari is developing partnerships with universities and a number of its first round of Year 12 graduates in 2010 were offered full scholarships by the University of Queensland in 2010 (Annual Report 2010/2011, Yalari, 2010, p. 26). DARE Program (USQ). Each year the USQ runs a three-day camp of activities for Year 10-11 students and tours on campus focusing on leadership, culture, career guidance and planning. Parents and community members are also invited to award ceremonies.
A life-cycle approach to student outcomes from Higher Education
A number of examples of industry partnerships (cadetships) support students financially and offer pathways to employment and university. Examples include:
The Indigenous Cadetship Support (ICS) (formerly the National Indigenous cadetship project) is an Australian Government program which aims to improve the professional employment prospects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary students with employers in cadetship arrangements involving full-time study including negotiated work placements. The ICS provides up to $7,050 per semester to employers to support cadets with a living allowance and study-related costs and offset employer administration costs. Other forms of assistance, including travel assistance for cadets who are studying or undertaking their work placement away from home, are also available. Cadets are paid a wage by their employer during their work placement.
Working on Country provides funding for a combination of education, vocational training and employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to undertake Natural Resource Management (NRM) work across Australia. Education and training is delivered in conjunction with Cultural Heritage Management Training Providers in higher education institutions and private organisations (R. Ryan, Wilczynski, Watkins, & Rose, 2012).
The Indigenous Ranger Cadetship pilot program is an Australian government project aiming to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people complete school, and to encourage further study and training, leading to jobs and careers in land, sea and natural resource management. Twelve secondary schools in Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales will receive funding to develop the skills of Indigenous students who are studying selected units from Certificate I and II in Conservation and Land Management in association with VET providers.
The Worawa Aboriginal College in Victoria offers a Cadet Ranger Program in conjunction with the Healesville Sanctuary and VET training, providing 'hands-on' and vocational training, incorporating cultural content from local Aboriginal Elders.
At ANU, Indigenous students can more easily access national cadetships in the public service. It is encouraged at ANU because all of the government institutions located in Canberra and they can have access to ANU students fairly easily. Once in a cadetship program students are paid a stipend to finish their degree and they are also paid to complete internships during the holidays and this helps them to support themselves in their studies. At ANU, students who get an ATAR of 90-95 receive a scholarship of $6,000 and students who receive an ATAR of 96 or above, receive a scholarship of $12,000 to help with their studies. That is an incentive to attract students to attend university and ANU in particular. In 2010, ANU had its first Indigenous student with an ATAR of 99.
Pathways to Higher Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students via VET/TAFE
The focus on employment outcomes through TAFE can be at the expense of enrolments in university, although there are some notable exceptions to this where universities have developed creative synergies and pathways between TAFE and university. Some high schools are incorporating VET into programs that prepare students for a number of pathways to higher education.
The University of Newcastle recently signed a partnership agreement with TAFE for school-based traineeships to be undertaken concurrently with the HSC for students aspiring to enter primary school education and nursing programs, but who may not achieve the requisite ATAR. They will do the equivalent of a Certificate III involving on the job training as the same time as their HSC. There is also a Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice (including a double major in Aboriginal Studies and the professional experience component), where students can study Health, Business, and Psychology concurrently.
In the Northern Territory, VET pathways have been the traditional transition into higher education, especially in Teacher Education. A Certificate IV in Education Support or Out of School Care provides students with entry into a bachelor program; however, it does not prepare them for academic higher education courses. Language and literacy levels are one issue and the culture and expectations of universities are often significantly different from VET/TAFE sector.
While one Indigenous academic support lecturer believed VET was central to her own eventual success at university, because it provided her with opportunities to build skills over a series of courses, she also felt that there was a need for VET courses to better prepare students to go on to higher education.
Partnerships between universities, TAFEs, schools and communities can also play a central role in bridging the disconnection many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience between university study and employment. A number of respondents raised the fact that both during, and on completion of high school, their only thought was to either get a job or a TAFE qualification which would lead to a job. As one respondent pointed out:
Uni doesn't come up in conversation. The word university to me was what you see on TV, one big lecture room and big lectures, scary image. . .knowing what can be offered within a university that can be very different.
TAFE courses are often seen as being related to work tasks and job opportunities whereas university is often not. Another current higher education student explained:
When I first left school I was sure there was nothing at uni for me. Though I did know I wanted more than work (just a job) TAFE Cert I and Cert II security, forklift licence, blue card for working on construction sites.
University—community—school outreach programs: "You can't be what you can't see"
Many universities collaborate with schools and communities to provide outreach to a greater number of Indigenous students. These programs are diverse and are making great strides nationally in raising the aspirations of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students about 'going on to uni'. Valuing and engaging with family and community is a common theme of those universities with successful programs.
Outreach to schools by introducing students to the opportunities of higher education is essential early in their schooling, and, as one respondent observed: "you can't be what you can't see". Some universities have active community engagement divisions. Others use outreach programs as an opportunity to inform communities of what is involved in university education, as well as seeking information to take back to universities in relation to the needs of the community.
The ways in which communities have to, and continue to, engage with universities in their country are complex. While acknowledging that universities attract students from all over Australia based on their course material, there are important cultural, social and at times political relationships between Indigenous Australians and particular universities. Many universities work with communities in genuine and diverse ways. The Elders in Residence program at the University of Newcastle structures engagement processes such as co-chairing governance committees so as to ensure direct community input.
A senior Indigenous state-wide program manager highlighted the need for early intervention and a life-cycle approach:
There needs to be a focus early childhood and an approach that is about the life cycle of students from kindy to university. There needs to be a plan or strategy for that whole experience for students. There needs to be an understanding of these linkages down the line. Community engagement is essential to success. But, it depends on the definition of engagement. Targets are essential. Universities need targets so they can keep a focus on whether they are achieving or not.
At Charles Sturt University (CSU) many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are first in family to attend university. Staff in the enabling centre related that they need the family's support. If they have a strong identity in terms of who they are, they do well and if they don't, they will struggle. If there's not a lot of support from families and communities they will find it harder. ANU provides a pre-orientation program for Indigenous Students. This includes people from Disabilities Services, Equity, the Library and other disciplines. This is available in the week before O-Week to get students aware of the process and programs available.
At the University of Newcastle, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander success is about providing a full framework of knowledge regarding expectations of the university experience, and the mutual responsibilities and expectations between the university and the student. It's also about having family and community aware of these responsibilities and having good knowledge about what is involved when attending a university. It's about a gradual building up of transitional knowledge through Year 7—12 outreach programs in schools and this University has just signed an agreement with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) in this respect.
At UTS, Jumbunna invests in student outreach through a range of programs. It utilises print, electronic and social media to attract students and almost all students who attend UTS have been attracted because of these outreach activities. Very few students simply come of their own accord. Jumbunna runs school outreach programs and also in-house awareness programs for students. The Ngagnmi (meaning 'To Dream' in Gadigal Language) is offered each year and consists of a day on campus attending workshops, visiting facilities and each of the different faculties for high school students. It had up to 250 students in 2012 attending and from this there were over 100 applications of which 69 were successful. Of these 69, 43 came from regional areas and the remainder from within Sydney.
At The University of Sydney the Special Gadigal Program accounts for five points toward their degree and requires them to complete an academic skills course. Away from base students enrol directly from the Koori Centre after diagnostic tests and the university gives the Koori Centre a list of students who have identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander on enrolment. There is also the Gadigal New Pathway Program. Under this new program, careers officers target Indigenous students from schools in Year 9 and follow them through to university.
Several participants in this research stressed the need for connections between universities and schools to begin in the very early years with one respondent strongly arguing for a university presence in primary schools. This is particularly so in rural and remote regions as one student suggested: "Going out to communities and tell [sic] people what is available". Another student stressed the need to: "Start early. Don't leave it too late understand what you are getting yourself into, the commitment you are getting into. What you want to be in life".
SCU is targeting local Indigenous high school students (e.g. through AIME and Unibound). Unibound involves SCU project officers going into local schools and also bringing Indigenous students onto campus. This program has strong support from the school system in the north coast region of NSW.
CSU's schools division encourages students onto campus, via its 'My Schools' program. In another program, a team of academic and IEU staff members travel to remote communities to link up and engage with them. CDU Indigenous Academic Support staff members are working closely with Schools and Community Education Centres (CECs) including working with students and teachers in the development of their 'Personal Learning Plans'.
Tertiary preparation courses and pre-orientation courses
Tertiary preparation programs and pre-orientation courses play a significant role in helping to alleviate some of the stress of students in transition into an unknown university world. Tertiary preparation courses, pre-orientation courses, and alternative entry schemes provide students who wish to study at university or TAFE (but are not confident or may not meet the entry requirements of their chosen course) with the opportunity to develop the academic skills required. These courses also have the potential to provide students with an understanding of lecturers' expectations and how universities operate in terms of their policies, course requirements, etc..
One lecturer who has developed and now delivers a tertiary preparation course believes that, in addition to building academic skills, enabling courses need to include exploration of the disciplines offered within universities and the opportunity to investigate the intersection of Western and Indigenous Knowledges within the particular discipline they are considering entering. These courses need to build confidence in students so that they know they belong in university and can succeed. This lecturer cited a particular program that begins by focussing on individual approaches to learning, on life-long learning, on being engaged in one's own learning, and on a building the confidence to question what is being learnt.
Tertiary preparation courses provide a pathway into further study particularly for mature age students and those who have not studied formally for a number of years. One respondent indicated:
[I] found open uni really hard, leaving school and TAFE (very different expectations). No one prepares you for what is required for a Higher Education unit. I struggled with external studies, wasn't used to online learning. . . Online chats with group of 50, did well but struggled. . .(5 text books and lots of reading and research, extra bit to understand words (academic language) etc..
The need for more pre-orientation courses and longer orientation programs was also raised. It was argued that these programs provide a strong base for successful transition to university. Even students whose academic skills and previous study may mean a tertiary preparation course may be redundant would benefit from a better understanding of how the culture of universities supports success. Comments from respondents included:
. . .[universities should provide] some sort of orientation when you are going from Cert level to HE. It blew me away. I had no idea of the work load. You can stretch out a degree for years.
The Koori Centre at The University of Sydney delivers a two-week academic skills course before the start of each academic year and it has been found that this is better than building up academic skills over the first year for example, by way of First Year Experience (FYE) programs. During these two weeks, the students build up a strong support group and develop a lot of confidence, so much so that when the non-Indigenous students start classes, the Indigenous students are the orientation 'experts', which is very beneficial for their self-esteem.
One enabling program has had considerable success in setting up a Facebook page for all students—past and present. It has proven to be the most efficient way for lecturers to maintain communication and for students to experience peer support.
SCU has a 'Testing and Assessment' program where Indigenous students take a test similar to a Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) to gain entry into a series of workshops run by Indigenous staff members who evaluate the students' university readiness and from this, it can be determined whether they enter a preparatory program or a six month program of Indigenous studies. If they pass this assessment, they are able to enrol in a course of their choosing. The Testing and Assessment process is an individual assessment and this works well because individual arrangements can be made with schools or faculties.
CSU tracks students coming through the various entry programs and identifies the students who are picking up supplementary programs (e.g. tertiary success programs). The Barramal program runs twice a year, working with faculties and local schools. A recommendation is made to the faculties for places, consisting of HSC students and also students doing tertiary preparation programs at CSU.
Tertiary preparation courses are more successful at some universities than others. In a recent presentation by Professor Steve Larkin at CDU, it was noted that the Tertiary Enabling Program (TEP) at his university proved the least successful of entry options for Indigenous students in terms of numbers completing the course. In 2009, 57 students enrolled, 2 (3.5%) dropped out, 48 (84%) did not participate, 6 (10.5%) graduated and 1 (1%) was still enrolled at the end of the year. However, the Preparation for Tertiary Success (PTS) course written and delivered by the same institute (BIITE as an ACIKE course) has had significantly better results in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, 55 students enrolled, 10 (18%) discontinued, 29 (53%) were continuing and 16 (29%) graduated.
While both programs can be described as 'bridging' or 'enabling' programs, the content and delivery models are significantly different. The TEP course is a mainstream program open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who have the choice of studying externally or attending classes at either Casuarina Campus (Darwin) or Alice Springs. The PTS course includes core unit in 'Learning Identity', 'Strength and Success' and 'Discipline Inquiry'. The approach includes both Western and Indigenous Knowledges and ways of learning and is delivered face-to-face in study blocks of one to three semesters.
Improving the operation of ITAS
Previous sections have documented some of the current strengths and weaknesses of the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme—Tertiary Tuition (ITAS-TT). To reiterate, ITAS provides funding for eligible Indigenous students for tuition in their areas of tertiary study (university award level courses). The program is managed by tertiary education providers and is aimed at students who may be at risk of failing or not achieving sufficiently to continue. It is not "usually available for basic numeracy, literacy, enabling and bridging courses" (Australia. Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), 2011, p. 36).
Despite some of the weaknesses and issues associated with the current operation of ITAS, a number of universities still view the scheme as one of the essential ingredients for successful transitions.
The manager of a Go8 University IEU stated that:
ITAS is a key enabler of students. ITAS Tutors are employed at a higher rate than is provided by the government so as to attract the best quality tutors and also to keep them so there is continuity of the relationship with students. We believed that we needed a well-educated group of people with particular high value skills to enable the students. We keep a register of tutors with specific skills sets and provide students with the list to see how we can marry them with the right tutor. We've been able to measure the success of this approach through our students achieving higher marks.
One respondent stressed that, at her university:
Communications in this program are good—a staff member makes calls to every Indigenous student at the start of every session. The Indigenous students are often initially reluctant to fill out the ITAS form as they think it's another 'systems thing' they have to do, but when it's explained to them they will avail themselves of this opportunity.
A number of respondents spoke of the need to overhaul ITAS but are adapting the scheme to their needs in the meantime. For example, at the ANU, ITAS tutors are employed at a higher rate of remuneration than provided by the government so as to attract the best quality tutors—and to keep them in order to ensure continuity with students: "We believe that we need a well-educated group of people with particular high value skills to enable the students. . .we have been able to measure the success of this approach".
At UTS there is a focus on early intervention utilising ITAS as a central element. The early intervention program involves students who are identified and placed on an early intervention list to ensure they receive ITAS support and have regular meetings with academic coordinators. This program is very resource intensive, but in 2 years retention rates have risen by 17.8% to reach 81% retention in 2011 alone. Four years ago in 2008, the retention rate was 43%.
ANU automatically gives every student ITAS support in their first year. This gets them on track early in their studies as it focuses on time management, assessments and essay writing. It helps students to plan for their studies, to know what is available and what is possible. At the majority of universities ITAS is often only provided when students are beginning to fail or have become desperate, and this is the wrong approach.
While higher education students regarded ITAS tutoring as a central component of their success at university, the actual support they described was as much 'mentoring' as it was 'academic'. Developing a relationship with a single person, personal support and working with 'mentors connected to work' were all recurring themes. Tutors were also important in assisting students to understand university systems, to manage time and workloads and to gain specific academic skills in reading, writing and research. ANU first year students are encouraged to apply for an ITAS Tutor, but not all do. ANU finds that students become attached to their ITAS Tutor so they try and ensure that the tutors are permanent; people who are in for the long haul.
Developing confidence and having another person with whom to work through obstacles, develop and stay on a plan or return to it, get back on track, were, for many students, important to their success and remaining in the course. This relationship with a tutor was of particular importance to students from remote and rural regions. Students found large campuses and lectures of 100+ students overwhelming and were unlikely to ask questions or engage but were able to ask questions of their tutor and their confidence grew.
Changing university cultures and valuing Indigenous Knowledges
Attempts to change university culture are often resisted, as it may be perceived as one group being singled out for special consideration, rather than a unique opportunity to engage with continuing issues of national significance. IEUs are in many ways not regarded as change agents but as existing to ensure Indigenous students 'fit into' the existing university practices and culture. However, some centres are initiating change across their universities and introducing dynamic challenges to the status quo.
One example of this is the ACIKE, a partnership between the BIITE and CDU. ACIKE offers a number of courses delivered by both CDU and BIITE staff members in various modes (external, internal and mixed-mode) but is largely administered by CDU (CDU is responsible to Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency for all ACIKE courses). The two institutions have considerably different histories and cultures and each is struggling with change. One major difficulty has been the assumption that all students, regardless of their geographic location, language background or financial situation will engage in the online learning environment for all aspects of their study and administration. This impacts on regional and remote students and particularly on older students. One respondent felt this change had the potential to decrease opportunities for Indigenous students to study courses and/or units specifically written for them and those living in their region.
One senior Indigenous academic noted:
It is interesting to see the way (some universities), are approaching the building of Indigenous cultural capacity at the moment. But the most successful programs come from the grassroots—they're not just built into the KPIs of senior staff. For example, the role of the non-Indigenous mentors in AIME is creating a powerful change agent among young people. The best strategic outcome for AIME is that there's eventually no need for it to exist.
When asked how universities could improve support for Indigenous students, another student suggested: "Relevant curriculum including Indigenous perspectives and voices build a sense of Indigenous community on campus".
Valuing Indigenous Knowledges and promoting cultural competency is a central theme of those universities which have not only broadened their engagement so as to embrace and enhance Indigenous Knowledges but also to value its application toward wider educational success. Acknowledgement of Indigenous Knowledges in relevant disciplines is also helping to target resources and actions required for successful transition, to enrich understandings, and to enhance programs by incorporating Indigenous Knowledges in nationally beneficial ways.
A number of Australian universities have begun to integrate Indigenous Knowledges and perspectives into relevant existing courses, but this is far from the norm. Most universities offer an Indigenous Studies Program and senior Indigenous leadership within IEUs have developed distinct relationships with other relevant disciplines to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are integrated into their own teaching. Those that are taking Indigenous Knowledge seriously are investigating ways to include Indigenous Knowledge as a core element of graduate attributes for their institution.
Whole of university approach—integrated governance
The move to a whole of university approach regarding responsibility for Indigenous student success is gaining momentum and seeing greater responsibility being allocated within a range of disciplines, recruitment programs, curricula development and support programs. Those universities making the most progress with implementing a whole of university approach demonstrate strong leadership and governance principles. Good communication within institutions, tied to governance and key indicators of success, work to reinforce the targets to ensure students are receiving adequate support and good practice is rewarded.
Students are often directed to Indigenous academic support centres when requesting information, or assistance to complete administrative requirements of courses, and when requesting academic assistance. Such an approach demands that the staff members in the centres are 'all things to all people'. While these centres are often critical resources and positive centres of support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, a whole of university approach requires all staff members to develop the necessary skills and understanding so that they can provide relevant, timely and accurate information and support in culturally appropriate ways.
One respondent stated that:
The key is not only attracting Indigenous students to university but keeping them there. It is important to get into their lives and into communities early. It's about imagining a vision of what university will be like. Ultimately, it's a whole of university thing.
At the University of Newcastle students are interviewed on enrolment and the type of support they need is identified. The Wollotuka Institute has developed a program based on these interviews and works with different service providers across the university to ensure that students are supported on their journey. There is a positive culture of student support at the University, and the work of the Institute is highly valued. Indigenous Collaboration is a strategic priority. Every faculty and division has to say how it is going to promote the Indigenous Collaboration priority. One director of the Wollotuka Institute is on the University's Senate Committee and another on the University's Academic Council, illustrating the links of the Institute into the wider university.
For academic staff members at The University of Sydney, eligibility for promotion will include participation in cultural competency workshops. Such approaches were regarded by some as critical to addressing successful transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to university and completion.
The ultimate catalyst for a successful university wide approach to ensuring success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is the relationship developed between the IEUs and each faculty, discipline or school. This cannot be left to the goodwill of individual staff member: it must be a part of the formal structures within the university.
Indigenous enabling centres and centres of Indigenous Knowledge for the whole university population
Centres of Indigenous Knowledges based in universities have the potential for the support of all students and staff members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Utilising centres of Indigenous Knowledge as a means of focusing Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationship building, and as a research and resource base for academic staff members, is also vital in assisting these centres to develop and extend their influence throughout higher education institutions. This process builds on the narrative of the university as being a culturally safe and inclusive place. Acknowledging that all universities have both a collective and individual culture of operation, whether it is discipline focused or in the intent of the graduate attributes they seek to foster. From an Indigenous perspective, it is essential to address this culture, add to it, and improve it. This does not mean being mainstreamed into this culture, so to speak, but it does mean working to have real engagement with it for the benefit of students and staff members, as one respondent reflected:
[It is a] good university for Aboriginal people. [I] felt comfortable as an Aboriginal person [The] university knows about Aboriginal people, there are Aboriginal people around [in high positions].
A number of students interviewed highlighted the value for them in being able to access and participate in an Indigenous research centre which also provided opportunities for either work or internship. One respondent stated concisely:
It is. . .a culturally safe space. . .physical space as well as attitude and philosophy.
Centres of Indigenous Knowledge have the opportunity, as one respondent put it: "To change the paradigm from disadvantage to paradigm of excellence—driven by resilience and excellence".
Targeted strategies based in evidence – Monitoring and evaluating student progress
Having a dedicated strategy for success tied to indicators and outcomes is essential. Past policy and program failures were possibly due to under-investment in strategy and a lack of monitoring, evaluation and highlighting successful outcomes.
Universities with targeted strategies have generally also had Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) to guide this work. Ideally there is a need to have a research action plan that guides the targeted strategies. References have been made in interviews to RAPS as living documents which initiate change and can be revisited over time.
The National Indigenous Congress has highlighted evidence-based policy as a priority to enhance student outcomes and transition to university:
Congress is attempting to get good news from parents, students and others about what it is that is helping students to make successful transitions. In particular, Congress is asking the question, 'what really constitutes best practice?' Congress holds that educators should be looking at the data, identifying what is working and what is not, targeting the areas that are working and minimising the areas that are failing. Congress is also interested in focusing on quality of the teaching workforce from the perspective of teachers being knowledgeable of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture, knowledge practices, values and so on. Congress is focusing on accountability and performance in education. We're concerned with how we actually measure success. For example, in the ACT they have a Senate's Estimates Committee that is used to interrogate what is really going on and the need to feed that back to what you get from the community. So the key issue is a framework for measuring success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander improvements in education. When you look at COAG targets, we also need to have our own form of measurement and an institution to oversee and promote those findings.
Monitoring of student progress and implementing timely support mechanisms are essential in the first year with follow up opportunities as students progress. This process alerts staff members to student performance and triggers appropriate and targeted support. Case management of student development and transition is becoming a norm with students equally expected to follow through upon input of such efforts to achieve for their own sake and in the context of Indigenous Higher Education. Realising assets that already exist, instead of instituting new programs or implementing programs that are not based on evidence, is essential to reinforcing the important role of monitoring and evaluation. Diverse platforms of delivery offer unique opportunities for students to make considered choices about deciding to undertake university studies. Blended delivery models and bloc release teaching is of benefit to those studying in remote regions and those with dependents or employment responsibilities.
Continued mentoring and relationship building
Mentoring programs, based in evidence of outcomes and regularly monitored and evaluated, are becoming a movement of change at the transition stage. Opportunities for students and teaching staff members to be involved in mentoring networks within a knowledge community can be a means to successful transition. Genuine and respectful relationships where Indigenous students receive adequate support, and also have the opportunity to contribute, are important.
Chapter 3 detailed the key constraints and enablers to successful transitions to higher education. Chapter 4 examines recent and current activities aimed at limiting constraints and enhancing enablers to successful transition to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through an analysis of the different models that have been, are in operation and have been recently developed to enhance Indigenous transition to university with particular acknowledgement of the continuing and central role of IEUs. Chapter 4 then summarises the elements of leading practice in operation across the five identified models to arrive at a framework of leading practice that can be utilised to support Indigenous student transition to higher education.