13.6 University strategies to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers

Successful research outcomes are achieved when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research students are successfully supported to complete their PhDs and produce high-quality research. Sufficient support from universities is critical to fostering young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics and building capacity to undertake research. This in turn is fundamental to realising the academic gains of research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the academy.

13.6.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • university executive are committed to supporting researchers
  • strategic frameworks build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research capacity (for example, through research strategies and employment strategies to build the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers)
  • partnerships are cultivated between students, academics/mentors, communities, industry and government
  • faculties provide academic networks and mentoring of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff
  • approaches to research build strong and enduring relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • non-Indigenous mentors and supervisors are culturally competent
  • early career researchers have pathways and funding to support their development and research opportunities.

13.6.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • attraction and recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students
  • means to provide adequate income support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students undertaking research.

13.6.3 Examples

University of Western Sydney – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Strategy

The University of Western Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Strategy involves three streams:

  • linking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who demonstrate the potential to be an early career researcher or academic with senior academic mentors to kick-start their research involvement and activate a research career
  • utilising alternative entry pathways such as the Graduate Certificate in Research Studies transitioning to HDR studies for students aspiring to be successful future academics
  • developing the academic workforce to partner effectively with industry, government and the community on projects that improve opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research.

The university’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Strategy develops research but also addresses some of the barriers to postgraduate study and academic careers, focusing on building confidence, awareness, support and connections. It does this by linking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, discipline-specific academic researchers/mentors, and industry, government and community. It also creates a smooth transition pathway from undergraduate to postgraduate study and then to academic/research employment.

The university provides strong and supportive research and teaching environments within schools, centres and research programs. Set staff funding, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and student scholarships and professional development courses are regularly offered to increase levels of professionalism and expertise. In addition, a number of internal Early Career Research and Partnership grants are also regularly offered.

The key focus for the university’s research strategy model is partnerships with opportunity. The quality, relevance and potential impact of research increases substantially where quality partnerships are developed between students, staff, industry and community. This in turn increases the likelihood of quality research output, PhD completions, more projects and increased community engagement and trust.

The presence of students who are successfully transitioning into academia is leading to increased awareness within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of the possibility of careers in research. As a result of the program, the university is receiving increased enquiries from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates for research places.

The university has received the highest number of Discovery Indigenous grants of any Australian university, with 14 awarded over the period 2000–10.

Charles Sturt University – pathway support for fostering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics

Charles Sturt University pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to undertake HDR studies and research now include the following schemes:

  • Indigenous Academic Internship Program: a program that provides a living wage for eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD candidates and assists in developing potential to enter an academic career. The internship combines a scholarship/stipend and a one-day-per-week teaching role. Eligible candidates enrol in a Charles Sturt University PhD program and receive appropriate, high-quality supervision and academic support.
  • Indigenous Staff Higher Degree by Research Pathways: a program that offers partial time release from teaching/administrative responsibilities to fast-track completion of the Graduate Certificate in Research Methods and honours programs as a pathway into PhD study. Time release provided halves teaching and administration responsibilities.
  • Indigenous Staff PhD Release Scheme: full-time equivalent release from teaching for eligible staff to facilitate PhD completion
  • Indigenous Research/Researchers Seed Funding: a small internal funding pool to support seeding projects and/or small groups
  • Indigenous Higher Degree by Research Student Fee Waivers: to encourage and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR student candidates by providing a fee waiver. The scheme is open to general staff and community members.

The university’s Indigenous Trainee Program also means that there are employment pathways into university that can lead to study and academic careers.