Models supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student transition to higher education


Current Models Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students' Transitions into Higher Education

The development of the 38 IEUs operating in Australian universities today is the result of almost three decades of accumulated action in response to lessons learned by IEU staff members, community leaders, key personnel working in Indigenous education and the activities of Indigenous students' associations. Their development is also the result of high level Indigenous policy engagement and program development with the Commonwealth, states and territories aimed at increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student transition into higher education.

The terms of agreement for this project sought to define 'best practice models or frameworks' from which to 'maximise the transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students into higher education'. The report finds no single 'best practice model' is applicable to all Australian universities. This is supported by the views of respondents and reinforces the finding of the IHER that:

. . .there will be no 'one size fits all' approach that can be applied as each university offers a unique environment in which to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander success among its students and staff (Behrendt et al., 2012, p. 57).

Respondents identified that university governance plays a significant role in defining different models and in supporting Indigenous students' transition to higher education, while noting that the best solutions are tailored to local knowledge and contexts. The IHER supported the idea that, ". . .universities can benefit from sharing lessons about these best practice approaches and supportive governance structures. . ." but cautioned:

. . .given the distinctive nature of each university and their unique student profiles, universities must determine their own governance structures and cultural change processes. There can be no 'one size fits all' solution. (Behrendt et al., 2012, p. 142)

Accepting that there is no single model that can or should be applied across the sector, the report instead identifies a framework for leading practice. To arrive at a framework of leading practice, the following sections identify a range of common practices being implemented within Australian universities to support Indigenous students' transition into higher education. Noting the key constraints and enablers identified within the report and, assessing the scale of implementation and impact of current practices, it is possible to define leading practice elements which can be applied across the diversity of identified models within Australian universities. These are provided as a guide to all IEUs in accordance with Recommendation 11 of the IHER (Behrendt et al., 2012, p. xx) seeking to maximise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students' transition to higher education through a considered review of IEUs, in order to increase understandings and progress toward better student outcomes. Defining and disseminating leading practice elements will aid these reviews.

Identified Models of Transition Operating in Australian Universities

The report identifies five models that have developed across the sector to meet the particular needs of Indigenous communities and students who have utilised their services and contributed to their character. The five models of transition operating within Australian universities to support the transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into higher education are:

  1. The Standard Model - Table A - Indigenous Education Unit focused
  2. The School Model - larger Indigenous Studies Programs linked with student support
  3. The Governance Driven Model -
    • (IEU) governance tied to Key Performance Indicators (KPI) led by IEUs
    • (Executive) governance tied to KPIs led by Executive staff members
  4. The Indigenous Knowledge Centre Model - highlighting the relevance of IK
  5. Mainstream Enabling Support Model - with minimal or no IEU facilitation

These different models have also been influenced by particular leadership styles, limitations or availability of resources, periodic phases of policy action or inaction, administrative cultures, the character of the courses on offer within their institutions and very importantly, personal and professional relationships between these IEUs and key university staff members. Similar models have been employed at different universities with similar characteristics in terms of the range of factors identified above, as well as the social, economic and cultural determinants that define the cohorts of Indigenous students within them.M

All models share similar practices but differ in priorities, access to resources, scale of implementation, ability to fulfil targets and the ability to address different contexts of their student populations. Some models, such as the Standard Model, have been in place for many years and, while maintaining a constancy of support, can be identified as being in need of transformation through the implementation of leading practice elements. To enhance student transitions, other models, such as the Governance Driven Model and the Indigenous Knowledge Centre Model, have more recently transformed the Standard Model and already exhibit many of the elements of leading practice. Governance, policy and funding programs play a significant role in defining different models, informing, and in some cases directing, practices on the ground.

Detailed analysis of the identified models is available in Chapter 4 of the Final Report.