13.4 Building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education workforce

The underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, particularly in academic roles and research, is a significant barrier to achieving greater access, retention and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian universities. Increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics will greatly assist, for example, in building teaching capacity, providing high-quality supervision for postgraduate students, embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in curriculums and increasing research capacity.

13.4.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • university executive provide support and leadership to drive outcomes
  • capacity-building initiatives for targeted students and general staff
  • professional development is provided for existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic staff
  • a single point of contact exists to provide administrative, pastoral and mentoring support to new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and trainees
  • the university is seen as an employer of choice by potential staff through engagement with the local community.

13.4.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • identifying, developing and recruiting appropriately qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • developing frameworks to support effective communication and implementation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment strategies across the university
  • ensuring that the whole university is perceived as a culturally safe place, so employees feel welcome and supported
  • tailoring recruitment to recognise the different educational and employment histories of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • having sufficient resources (including time and funding) to train new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to meet the needs of each job.

13.4.3 Examples

The University of Newcastle – Indigenous Employment Strategy

The University of Newcastle’s Indigenous Employment Strategy has seen applications and total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff numbers rise since its implementation in 2009. The strategy focuses on recruitment, ensuring a culturally appropriate environment and the professional development and extension of current and prospective staff.

Key elements of the plan include:

  • an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Coordinator to develop and implement the strategy
  • collaborations with the Diversity in the Workplace Officer (Equity Advisor – Employment) and Human Resource Services to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and pathways are considered in all employment activities
  • establishing relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and employment agencies
  • conducting workshops regularly for staff in the university and within local high schools with connections to the university.

The university pursues a ‘grow your own’ approach to developing and attracting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and general staff, with target groups including final-year students, postgraduate research students and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alumni. This approach recognises and rewards potential, with identified senior students undertaking activities that enhance their skills and experience and provide a pathway to postgraduate study or employment at the university.

As part of this, the Success and Leadership Program identifies final-year students for both postgraduate and employment opportunities. Students are supported to attend leadership and professional development activities, such as conferences, leadership workshops and international exchange programs.

The Kunarr Indigenous Alumni program also provides opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates to participate in professional networking and development, social events and ongoing connection to the university. Postgraduate and employment opportunities are also promoted through the program. Alumni are encouraged to apply for positions.

In 2010, the university employed 67 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff (21 as academic staff and 46 as general staff). In 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff represented approximately 2.4% of all university staff. Most faculties within the university exceed the sector average in rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment.

In 2012, the university has a target to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to 2.8% of all university staff. This target is one of the 20 key performance indicators against which the university will measure its success.

University of South Australia – professional development of new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff

An Indigenous Employment Strategy, Yaitya Warpulai Tappa (Indigenous Work Path), guides the recruitment, retention and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff at the University of South Australia. The university has set a target to ensure that 2% of the university’s workforce is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

There are two distinct initiatives within the university’s Indigenous Employment Strategy:

  • an Indigenous Graduate Program which commenced in 2011 recruits and provides training for up to four Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander graduates at any one time. Graduate trainees undertake four six-month placements in administrative units and academic divisions and are employed at Higher Education Officer level 4. The program provides a direct link between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and employment strategies, giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students an additional pathway into employment. This is one of the ways the university is seeking to improve internal employment pathways to enable transition from student to employee status.
  • a professional development fund for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who are newly appointed to the university either through a continuing or fixed-term contract of three or more years. The program provides funds for a customised professional development program.

In 2010, the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research graduated its first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD candidate, who was subsequently appointed as a full-time lecturer at the university.