12.1 Curriculum and pedagogy

Some universities offer programs explicitly designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. A focus on the professional needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content, alternative modes of delivery, and the academic and pastoral needs of students has helped these programs to build strong cohorts of students in a number of priority areas, particularly in the health and education professions.

12.1.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • diverse knowledge domains are recognised, including a focus on regeneration and transition of Indigenous knowledges
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are appointed as academics and cultural leaders
  • communities, the professions and industry are engaged where relevant.

12.1.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • meeting the learning needs of a diverse student demographic
  • developing curriculum that encompasses both discipline- and Indigenous-specific cultural content
  • recruiting specialist academic and general student support staff and accessing Indigenous content experts and knowledge owners
  • securing sufficient funding for institutional costs over and above basic operations, including investing in workforce growth.

12.1.3 Examples

Deakin University – Institute of Koorie Education

The Institute of Koorie Education at Deakin University offers graduate and postgraduate courses designed to grow a cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals in areas of national priority. These programs include a strong focus on health workforce development in fields such as nursing, public health, social work and diabetes education. Three of these are profiled below.

Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education

In 2010, the Institute of Koorie Education piloted the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education. Prior to this, the course was only offered by distance mode and was mainly targeted at nurses and allied health professionals rather than Aboriginal health workers. Four students graduated in the pilot year and are now working with a credentialed diabetes educator in their local community.

Course materials address the social determinants of health relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This enables students to demystify dominant constructs and emerge as independent thinkers in the diabetes area. The program is taught by three diabetes educators and one Aboriginal health professional with experience working in nutrition and diabetes.

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and Diabetes Australia (Victoria) are working towards establishing a pathway for senior Aboriginal health workers from Certificate IV into the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education. The Institute of Koorie Education is liaising with the Australian Diabetes Educators’ Association regarding processes for accepting graduates as credentialed diabetes educators. The project was funded by the Victorian Department of Health as an allied health training grant in 2010–11. It included an internship of up to $25,000 and HECS-HELP for students, program coordination assistance and student mentoring.

Bachelor of Nursing

In 2002, the Institute of Koorie Education piloted the Bachelor of Nursing program with Australian Government funding. The program allows students to obtain a higher degree without diminishing their own cultural knowledge system and their professional place within their community. A total of 32 students have graduated and work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific services, but more importantly, they also play a critical role in reforming mainstream nursing practice as it impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The institute tracks graduates’ career progression. All graduates are either employed as registered nurses, in community organisations or their local hospital, or are undertaking further studies in health, including the Graduate Diploma of Midwifery, Master of Public Health, Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education and Graduate Diploma of Mental Health.

Master of Public Health

In 2001, the Institute of Koorie Education introduced the Master of Public Health in partnership with the Victorian Consortium for Public Health in response to community demand for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners. The institute took over responsibility for delivery in 2010. Course delivery involves mixed mode teaching through six intensive study blocks held on campus throughout the year. This structure enables students to continue to work in their communities while completing their professional qualifications.

Since 2002, the institute and the Onemda VicHealth Koori Health Unit at the University of Melbourne have collaborated to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Master of Public Health graduates and enhance their capacity to respond to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues. As part of this work, the National Indigenous Public Health Curriculum Framework was developed in 2008 and is currently being implemented in public health teaching institutions around the country.

The Master of Public Health equips practitioners to fulfil their health leadership roles, including strategic planning, program coordination, policy development, management and research. The institute provides both on- and off-campus support, including advocating on behalf of the students with employers. Career tracking of graduates demonstrates a high level of graduate engagement in addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues at community, state and national levels. Three graduates are now enrolled in PhD programs. Since 2004, 26 students have completed the course.

Elders have contributed to the success of the program and two Elders have completed the course themselves. Elder and community research groups work with students to develop research projects. This ensures that community priorities are addressed and appropriate permissions obtained. It also facilitates a two-way exchange of knowledge between students and the community.

The institute works with communities, state and federal government departments and professional bodies in achieving capacity-building and workforce strategies within many professions. Courses include: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts), Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Bachelor Education (Primary), Bachelor of Teaching/Bachelor Arts, Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, Bachelor of Commerce, Master of Education, Master of Teaching, Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, Graduate Diploma of Natural and Cultural Resource Management and Graduate Diploma of Accounting.

More recently, the institute and the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Deakin University, in partnership with CPA Australia, held a roundtable event at the Deakin Management Centre. The event brought together key stakeholders from around Australia to discuss and plan strategies to increase the participation and employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the accounting profession.

The University of Adelaide – Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music program

The University of Adelaide Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music provides tertiary-level music education qualifications to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians. It grew out of a community grant in the early 1970s. The centre operates as a cultural institution in its own right, and contributes to the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music making at the state and national levels.

The centre’s programs respond to identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community needs and provide specialised pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, including those who would not otherwise have gained access to higher education. The centre offers curriculums and teaching strategies that are responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and provides a supportive cultural space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians within the mainstream institutional setting. Its approach includes a focus on engagement and collaboration with the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous communities and music industry, and a focus on traditional and contemporary forms. Key among its achievements is the centre’s influence on the development of Australian Indigenous music and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music as a research outcome. Graduates are employed in a wide range of fields.