13.2 Cohort support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher degree by research students

Cohort support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR students is critical to enabling students to share and learn from each other, provide emotional and social support and importantly to reduce the social isolation of long periods of solitary research. The sense of isolation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR students is even greater as they may be the only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student transitioning to HDR study at any one university. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD graduates strongly emphasised how helpful it would be to have a means of building support among Indigenous HDR students to provide academic, social and emotional support.

13.2.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • cohort-based support is available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, either through the university or across universities
  • a safe environment is provided that acknowledges and respects Indigenous world views.

13.2.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • pressure on limited numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics to provide program support.

13.2.3 Examples

James Cook University – School of Indigenous Australian Studies postgraduate program

The School of Indigenous Australian Studies delivers a postgraduate program (coursework and research) and a research program.

The program for postgraduate students includes:

  • compulsory coursework to ensure that students are adequately prepared for research. This includes on-campus blocks of study for lectures and student presentations for critique.
  • assistance for students in developing and understanding tenants of culture and research method approaches related to their study
  • master classes held annually with invited expert lecturers
  • co-supervision arrangements which includes expertise from relevant disciplines as well as from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics
  • assistance with individual student study plans including regular supervisory meetings and regular catch-ups with students
  • monthly video conference links to discuss selected readings
  • promotion of scholarships.

Separate researchers lead work under a series of research themes and create a nexus for research and teaching and learning.

The program supports flexible entry requirements with conditions applied in some alternative entry modes. The program also includes early identification and counselling for students at risk of not completing. The program was established in 1999 by the School of Indigenous Australian Studies and is managed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics. The program offers various exit pathways at graduate certificate, graduate diploma, masters and PhD levels.

New Zealand Māori and Indigenous postgraduate network

New Zealand’s Māori and Indigenous program, established in the early 1990s, is a nationally organised network of key sites around New Zealand. The network is supported virtually through the MAI website which broadens its reach to all students nationally.

The program consists of:

  • support and mentoring to assist research capacity development for individual students as well as universities (wānanga) dedicated to Māori educational contexts
  • a curriculum of courses, seminars, lectures, conferences, retreats and workshops that are specifically designed for pre-doctoral through to postdoctoral levels and beyond
  • a system of grants and fellowships
  • career and leadership training
  • international study and research opportunities.

Sites are located in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Otago. The postgraduate network is part of the capability-building program of New Zealand’s Māori and Indigenous Centre of Excellence (Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga) which was established in 2002.

There has been a significant increase in the number of Māori with doctoral degrees since this time (around 20 or 30 graduates a year since 2000).