Understanding the aspirations of remote Aboriginal communities to pursue further education: The benefits of collaborative research

It is well documented that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under-represented in Australian universities. This was highlighted in the Behrendt Review (2012) with a range of social, cultural, structural and political factors used to explain why. Importantly, this under-representation disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in regional and remote settings. A need exists for tertiary institutions to address this disparity by implementing strategies that better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to identify and address their needs on their terms. Over the past two years, Charles Darwin University has been implementing the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPPP) funded Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative. This has involved working with six remote communities across the Northern Territory to enhance opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to pursue further education. Using a collaborative research approach campus-based and remote Aboriginal community-based staff have co-developed community action plans that clearly define the strategies and activities identified and prioritised by each community. This process has resulted in the development of numerous agreements with local Aboriginal community controlled organisations to strengthen a commitment towards further education, ultimately shifting the power of control to the community level and increasing self-determination. It has also supported a heightened awareness of, and interest in, opportunities to pursue tertiary education pathways within each community. In this presentation we will draw on progress against the community action plans to demonstrate outcomes achieved through the WCE initiative. We will also describe key lessons learned during the planning and implementation phases.