"She was doing all this other stuff and managing to do uni. I was like, 'that's pretty cool'": The role of social capital in shaping the capacity to aspire to higher education for Australian Indigenous school students

Year: 2017

Author: Patfield Sally, Gore Jennifer, Fray Leanne, Gupetta Maree, Lloyd Adam, Harris Jess, Smith Max, Holmes Kathryn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Within the context of the widening participation agenda, many equity initiatives have been implemented designed to move towards parity targets for the enrolment of Indigenous students in higher education. However, Indigenous students remain underrepresented in university, and are more likely than their non-Indigenous peers to enrol at an older age (Behrendt et al. 2012). While Indigenous students are often the first in family to pursue university, recent growth in secondary school completion rates also means they are increasingly likely to be the first in family to be in a position to enrol in university directly from school.
Drawing on data collected through focus groups and interviews with Indigenous students (N = 62) from government secondary schools in New South Wales, this paper applies the sociological perspectives of Appadurai (2004) and Bourdieu (2004) and the insights of Indigenous scholar Maggie Walter (2015) to an exploration of how access to social capital, including racial capital, shapes and informs aspirations for higher education.
Findings centre on the crucial role played by family and community in providing support and advice, and particularly significant contacts who possess experience with higher education. While also highlighting the importance of school-university equity initiatives, we argue that such initiatives must move beyond a sole focus on the individual to actively involve family and community in the support of aspirations.