In the first national strategy of its kind, universities will seek to grow the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in university by 50 per cent above the growth rate of non-Indigenous students.
The Universities Australia’s Indigenous Strategy 2017-2020 also 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.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the strategy recognised that Indigenous knowledge goes back thousands of generations before Australia’s first university was established.
“Australia’s first peoples make enormous contributions to learning and research,” she said. “We hope this strategy will help universities to make the most of that contribution, lift Indigenous participation and celebrate Indigenous excellence.”
Australia’s universities have achieved strong growth in Indigenous enrolments in recent years. We now have 70 per cent more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students than in 2008.
Yet there is still a gap to close. Indigenous people comprise 2.7 per cent of Australia’s working age population but only 1.6 per cent of university domestic student enrolments – up from 1.2 per cent a decade ago.
“Despite these large strides forward, there is more to be done. And that’s why the university sector has come together to redouble our efforts through this strategy,” Ms Robinson said.
Universities Australia said achieving the targets would rely on strong partnerships between universities, Indigenous communities and Government – with everyone contributing to the effort. Continued funding for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program will also crucial.
Last month’s Closing the Gap report noted that the higher the level of education, the smaller the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that for tertiary-educated Indigenous people, there is now no employment gap.
The strategy was developed in close consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium (NATSIHEC).
The consortium’s Chair, Professor Peter Buckskin – a Narungga man – said he saw the strategy as a way to make Indigenous success core business in higher education.
“Aspiration and substance are crucial to this endeavour. We will work together to ensure that the promise of the Indigenous Strategy has tangible outcomes,” he said.
The strategy will be launched at the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference dinner at the Great Hall in Parliament House tonight.
Speakers at the event include Kungarakan Elder and University of Canberra Chancellor Dr Tom Calma, acclaimed film director and Arrernte woman Rachel Perkins, and Gumbaynggirr woman and Melbourne University PhD student, Lilly Brown.