“Unlocking capacity and empowering choices”: Indigenous students’ aspirations for higher education

Year: 2016

Author: Lloyd, Adam, Gore, Jenny, Harris, Jess, Smith, Max, Gruppetta, Maree, Holmes, Kath

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Indigenous students remain significantly underrepresented in Australian higher education. Although some progress has been made in recent years, Indigenous people comprised 2.2% of the overall population but only 1.4% of students enrolled at university in 2010 (Behrendt, Larkin, Griew, & Kelly, 2012). Despite a targeted focus of the widening participation agenda, little empirical research has been conducted into the aspirations of Indigenous students. Such research will provide a sound evidence base for targeted equity strategies to be developed and implemented. Focusing on what Behrendt et al. (2012, p. xi) have described as “unlocking capacity and empowering choices”, in this study we: a) draw on extant survey data collected as part of a mixed methods longitudinal study of students in Years 3 to 12 (n = 6,492) to investigate the occupational and educational aspirations of a large sample of Indigenous students (n = 432); and b) present rich case studies using interview data. Extended interviews with a sub-sample of students, parents and teachers also shed light on Indigenous students’ perceptions of enablers and barriers to university and their understanding of the pathways from school to higher education. Given the scarcity of current evidence on which to base higher education outreach initiatives in general (Naylor et al, 2013) and for Indigenous students in particular, we argue that more nuanced strategies need to be developed taking into account the diversity within Indigeneity. We also emphasise the importance of considerations beyond ‘access’ in any attempt to increase the proportion of Indigenous students at university.Behrendt, L., Larkin, S., Griew, R., & Kelly, P. (2012). Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Final report. Canberra: Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Retrieved from http://apo.org.au/research/review-higher-education-access-and-outcomes-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-people Naylor, R., Baik, C., & James, R. (2013). A critical interventions framework for advancing equity in Australian higher education. Canberra: Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Retrieved from https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/publications/critical-interventions-framework/