A landmark scheme to lift enrolment and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students has been hailed as crucial to achieve real progress in the sector.
Universities across Australia, including the University of Sydney, have committed to working together to grow the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled by 50 percent above the growth rate of non-Indigenous students.
Welcoming the ambitious goal, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services), Professor Shane Houston, cited the University of Sydney’s Wingara Mura-Bunga Burabugu strategy to build opportunity, capability and rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“A genuine strategic commitment is essential to achieve real results,” Professor Houston said.
“Since we launched our WMBB strategy five years ago, we’ve seen a 36 percent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying with us.
“We’re also incredibly proud of our retention and completion rates, which reveal a bigger picture in terms of positive student outcomes.”
The Universities Australia’s Indigenous Strategy 2017-2020, to be launched today, sets a target of equal success and completion rates for Indigenous students to non-Indigenous students in the same fields of study over the next decade.
At Sydney, we don’t just want to get students in the door; we want to ensure they have the capability and support to be able to complete their degree.
"We know Aboriginal students can face additional challenges, including financial, cultural and geographical. That’s why this year we introduced guaranteed and subsidised accommodation for all commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, as well as the opportunity to take part in a peer mentoring program - to help offset some of those pressures," Professor Houston said.
As part of the WMBB Strategy, the University has launched a number of initiatives including a campus-wide commitment to cultural competence, service learning opportunities for students to work with communities on real-world problems and exploring ways to further support Aboriginal staff.
Cultural competence has been embedded in the University’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, and is one of six core graduate qualities to be developed in every graduate of the University of Sydney under the new undergraduate curriculum announced earlier this week.
Through Widening Participation and Outreach, and supported by government funding, the University also implements an extensive school outreach program culminating in the WMBB Summer Program each January, in which hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students from across the country spend a week on campus taking part in academic and cultural activities.
We need to reach Aboriginal students in schools, in order to engage, encourage and support them to achieve their full potential.
“Far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students aren’t completing year 12. Many that do aren’t leaving with an ATAR, or a high enough ATAR, in order to pursue higher education. Real change will require the efforts of the full sector.
“We look forward to collaborating with other Australian universities to determine how we can further ensure equity, particularly among students.”
Universities Australia said achieving the targets would rely on strong partnerships between universities, Aboriginal communities and government at all levels – with everyone contributing to and working towards the shared goal. Continued funding for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program will also be crucial, Universities Australia added.
The strategy was developed in close consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium (NATSIHEC).
The strategy will be launched at the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference dinner at the Great Hall in Parliament House tonight.
Over 200 students from across Australia will attend an academic and cultural workshop, as the University of Sydney expands its school outreach program to engage regional students and increase participation in STEM subjects.