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The university funding freeze will make it harder to close the gap in university attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, which is crucial to achieve employment parity.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium this week urged Government to quarantine places for Indigenous students from the current funding freeze.

NATSIHEC Chair Professor Peter Buckskin said this week: “We would like to … have places continue to be uncapped for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person enrolling in university, so the university has the capacity to ensure that they can accept that enrolment.”

To build on the 70 per cent growth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student enrolments over the past decade, Australian universities set themselves new growth targets last year under a new sector-wide Indigenous strategy.

Universities Australia Chair Professor Margaret Gardner said universities were concerned by any funding changes that made it harder to meet those targets to lift Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments.

“Last year, Australian universities set themselves ambitious growth targets to help the nation close this gap,” Professor Gardner said.

“We need to ensure that every policy and funding decision is pulling in the right direction to keep making strong progress to close the gaps in both education and employment.”

“We ask Government to reconsider a funding freeze which makes it harder to enrol more students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups – including Indigenous students.”

The Universities Australia Indigenous Strategy was developed in close partnership with NATSIHEC, and the boards of both organisations met jointly last December to review our progress.

In his Close the Gap speech in 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull noted there had been a 70 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous students in higher education over the past decade.

In 2017, he noted “the higher the level of education, the smaller the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment. For tertiary educated Indigenous people, there is no gap.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise three per cent of the Australian population but still only 1.6 per cent of the university student cohort – up from 1.2 per cent in 2008.

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