Strategies for strengthening Indigenous higher education

National data demonstrates that Indigenous students are less likely to complete year 12 compared to non-Indigenous students, and that Indigenous students are less likely to gain an Australian Tertiary Entrance Rank compared to non-Indigenous students. This means that Indigenous people are less likely to participate in university and are less likely to be admitted to university on the basis of their prior educational achievement. That is, there are multiple barriers that impact on the ability of Indigenous students to access and participate in higher education.

Whilst Indigenous students have been identified as one of six priority equity groups within the Australian higher education context, many of these students also fall into other under-represented categories. This includes students from low socio-economic status backgrounds; students from regional and remote areas; and students from non-English speaking backgrounds. This means Indigenous student exposure to inequities in higher education can be cumulative.

Decades of work, through collective effort, has occurred to increase Indigenous access, participation and achievement in higher education. Gains have been slow, but are gradually coming to fruition. It is now recognised that supportive educational environments, and responsive systems, policies and programs are required within universities across Australia to see positive change. The recent release of the Universities Australia Indigenous Strategy reinforces this message.

In addition, recent scholarship has argued that deficit discourses are unproductive in the Indigenous higher education space. Strengths-based discourses which focus on positive strategies to improve Indigenous higher education outcomes are now preferred. This symposium aims to fill this void.

Each of the five interconnected presentations aim to build the evidence-base about ways to enhance the Indigenous higher education experience for students and their families. Successful strategies to be discussed include demonstrating a commitment to Indigenous community and family engagement; increasing the Indigenous academic workforce; bolstering the monitoring and evaluation of Indigenous policies and programs; better understanding education to work transitions; and responding to expressed Indigenous student and staff needs.

The presenters are drawn from five different institutions across Australia and reflect evidence generated from four different funding bodies.

All presentations have involved co-authorship with Indigenous leaders and scholars from across Australia.