11.3 Indigenous graduate attributes

By establishing graduate attributes, universities seek to ensure that all students complete their studies with the full range of professional qualities appropriate to their chosen career. Some universities now include Indigenous-specific competencies within their graduate attribute statements. Appropriately crafted Indigenous graduate attributes have the potential to significantly alter the cultural competence of the nation’s professional workforce in the future and to improve outcomes for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

11.3.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content is made available across the curriculum, including electives at the individual unit level and compulsory subjects within priority professional programs
  • a learning and teaching framework is available for the development and delivery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content
  • repositories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources are available to all students and staff
  • graduate attributes are developed and implemented across the curriculum in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and communities.

11.3.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • dealing with the scale of embedding graduate attributes across the curriculum
  • developing and delivering cultural training for academics to ensure that they work within the teaching framework and have the competence to communicate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content
  • ensuring that content is relevant and appropriate.

11.3.3 Examples

University of Western Sydney – Indigenous graduate attribute

The Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education, University of Western Sydney, led consultations with the centre’s Elder-in-Residence, other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and the community, and university staff to develop and commit to the systematic application of an Indigenous graduate attribute for all University of Western Sydney courses. The attribute was developed in 2008, following an audit of Indigenous-related activities across the university in 2007, and a benchmarking exercise undertaken with 36 Australian universities. The attribute comprises a set of generic skills and descriptors. All courses will be expected to include the attribute and new courses will be assessed against it as part of the course approval process.

In 2008, a seed grant was provided under the Australian Government’s Structural Adjustment Fund to assist with embedding the Indigenous graduate attribute into the university’s courses. Implementation of the attribute into University of Western Sydney courses began in 2009 and covered the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content to be embedded in courses at unit level, including an Indigenous Australian Studies major of 10 units that can be undertaken as a major, sub-major or as individual units.

The purpose of the Indigenous graduate attribute is to ensure that students develop relevant knowledge and skills to demonstrate cultural competency and professional capacity to interact with the broader Australian society and to raise the level of academic service delivery to students. It also contributes to an inclusive national identity.

The potential impact of the initiative can be measured in terms of the university’s large student and academic populations and its location within a significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student catchment area. Since 2009, and through analysis of the implementation of the attribute when preparing this report, it was evident that over 9,000 graduates were engaged in studying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content in their courses. Many of them come from the local region and are expected to remain working in the region. The initiative is focused on ensuring that students emerge with greater appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and how it may affect their future careers. It also supports the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff by making the work and study environment more inclusive and increasing the employment and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and communities.