National forum hones strategies to boost educational outcomes of Indigenous students

Published:30 May 2018

Project team members who presented at the Forum including Professor Denise Wood and Professor Bronwyn Fredericks (third and fourth from left respectively).

A national forum held this week in Brisbane reported the findings of a national-funded project that aims to address the gap between policy and implementation by discussing strategies for improving the educational outcomes of Indigenous students.

Co-project leader and presenter Professor Denise Wood, of CQUniversity, says there’s been significant progress in recent years, “however, the participation rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in higher education remains below parity, with the exception of universities located in regional areas”.

“The completion rate for Indigenous students is also considerably lower than for non-Indigenous students,” says Professor Wood, who is Director of CQUniversity’s Centre for Regional Advancement of Learning, Equity, Access & Participation.

“This is concerning given we also know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a Bachelor degree have an employment rate comparable to that for non-Indigenous Australians with the same level of qualifications.

“This forum is the culmination of a three-year project that has investigated the factors that impact on the higher education outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the policy implications for the higher education sector.

“The forum is timely as we celebrate National Reconciliation Week across Australia as it provides an opportunity for educators and equity practitioners to reflect on the broader policy context and what we have learned from the findings of the five participating universities that can be applied in practice to improve the educational outcomes of our Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Professor Wood presented the forum for around 40 participants in conjunction with her former CQUni colleague Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, who is now Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Queensland and shared leadership of the project with Professor Wood.

“It’s exciting to see the coming together of the work done in different jurisdictions and the gathering of like-minded people committed to improving Indigenous education outcomes,” Professor Fredericks says.

“I know this type of practical research and the ongoing commitment to advocacy can lead to improved policy that can work towards closing the gap in education disparity.”

CQUniversity conducted the national forum at its Brisbane campus in partnership with Charles Darwin University, James Cook University, the University of Newcastle and the University of South Australia.

The forum was the culmination of an Office of Learning and Teaching project - funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training - that focused on strategies for improving retention and completion rates of Australian Indigenous university students.

The project has involved policy reviews and interviews with current, past and returning students and lecturers. New strategies have been developed to compensate for inabilities to access returning students.

Participants in the forum had the opportunity to learn about and contribute to discussions relating to the outcomes from the project including:

* The Development of Guidelines for best practice in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate studies at metropolitan and regional universities.

* A Model of Participatory Action Research based on Indigenist methodologies that can be applied in other locations and disciplines.

* Five Case Studies documenting the experiences of employing the strategies across the project partner institutions.