Australia’s Indigenous population is under-represented in the university system. According to the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Indigenous People Comprise 2.2 per cent of the overall population, but only 1.4 per cent of student enrolments  at university in 2010, including only 1.1 per cent of higher degree by research enrolments. Staffing levels are also low, with 0.8 per cent of all full-time equivalent academic staff and 1.2 per cent of general university staff in 2010 being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

The Review noted the poor recognition given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, the lack of visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and knowledge on many campuses, and the low levels of participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in university governance and management. The most important factors identified as leading to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ premature withdrawal from studies included financial pressures, social or cultural alienation caused by the academic demands of study, and insufficient academic support.

UA agrees with the Review’s findings that education (including higher education) plays a vital role in improving the overall state of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly their health and economic wellbeing. 

The Review proposed numerous recommendations to improve the higher education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of which involve systemic change to the ways universities conduct their business. UA is working with Government to implement these recommendations.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council

The delivery of the recommendations from the Review is being overseen by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council (ATSIHEAC), a Government committee reporting through the Department of Education. As well as advising Government on Indigenous higher education policy, the ATSIHEAC also presents a small number of awards and scholarships.

Universities Australia is represented on the ATSIHEAC and works with the Council towards mutually supportive policy goals.