14.2 Decision-making and accountability structures

Universities have adopted a variety of approaches to including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and perspectives in governance and accountability arrangements. The most effective of these have articulated a strategic agenda at the highest level and established meaningful roles for senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous staff.

14.2.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • the university’s commitment is signalled through articulation of a strategic agenda, led by senior leadership
  • accountability is borne by senior staff across the university at faculty level
  • senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander appointments lead and coordinate cultural change across the university (noting accountability and action at faculty level)
  • reporting and accountability structures are comprehensive and well coordinated.

14.2.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • resistance to change across the institution
  • inadequate information and reporting systems
  • inadequate resources to support governance mechanisms and initiatives
  • lack of prominence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters at the university level.

14.2.3 Examples

Charles Darwin University – governance and higher education partnerships

Charles Darwin University was highlighted in relation to governance and cultural competence in research commissioned for the Review (Moreton-Robinson et al. 2011, pp. 14–15), due to the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in institution decision-making processes and the presence of policies around this involvement. In addition, the university was the first Australian university to establish a high-level Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander executive position (Pro-Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership); a number of Australian universities have followed this trend with appointments at the pro-vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor levels.

In 2010, the university partnered with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education to establish the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education (ACIKE). The centre aims to provide pathways to build the social, human, economic and identity capital of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.

The centre commenced delivering qualifications in 2012. Its approach is to:

  • privilege and champion Indigenous identity, knowledges and relational ways of being in ways that empower individuals and communities and enhance cultural security
  • emphasise a ‘both ways’ approach to developing intercultural communication, decision making, governance and ways of doing business
  • benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Northern Territory and nationally.

The foundations on which the centre is built are respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethics and protocols, respect for difference and diversity, trust, creativity, flexibility and adaptability, responsibility and accountability. The centre’s Governance Board has majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander membership. The centre will harness the complementary strengths of its founding institutions for their mutual benefit.

The centre is delivering a range of courses from enabling (Preparation for Tertiary Success) to postgraduate, using internal, external and workshop delivery approaches. There are three main delivery sites: the main ACIKE Hub at the university’s Casuarina campus, the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education’s campus at Batchelor and the Desert Peoples Centre in Alice Springs.

The University of Queensland – appointment of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Education)

The University of Queensland established the Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Education) in 2011, following an external review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor is providing Indigenous leadership in the development and implementation of a university-wide strategy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, in consultation with senior staff, external stakeholders and community organisations. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor is a member of the university executive, the Equity, Diversity and Status of Women Committee (a Senate subcommittee) and the Academic Board.

A key goal in the university’s strategic plan is to increase the participation and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in all education programs offered at the university. A range of entry pathways are available, and there is evidence of increasing numbers of school leavers gaining entry on merit. A range of initiatives are also in place to support inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in curriculums and opportunities for practical projects in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

In 2012, a case management approach is being introduced for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and processes are being introduced for more formally linking faculty staff with academic and support staff of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit. An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working group established at faculty level will monitor and report on progress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

An audit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research activity is currently underway to inform the development of a comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research plan for the university that will identify areas of strength and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The most challenging aspect of moving to a university-wide strategy has been that of managing change. Overcoming barriers and resistance to change has involved extensive consultations with staff affected by the changes as well as with faculties, institutes, colleges and other administrative units of the university to ensure an acceptable plan for strategy implementation and structures to support the desired outcomes. Additionally, the need to implement quality information and reporting systems has been identified.

Monash University – Indigenous Health Strategy

The Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University launched its Indigenous Health Strategy in 2010. The strategy establishes the infrastructure for a more strategic, coordinated and sustainable approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in the areas of management, engagement, education, research, student support and environment across what is a large and complex faculty.

The strategy highlights how research will be conducted and identifies the following success factors:

  • being relevant and effective in meeting community needs
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and faculty-wide responsibility
  • equal partnerships and joint decision making
  • a strengths-based approach
  • celebrating and promoting success.

By developing this strategy, the faculty is making a strong statement about its commitment to achieving outcomes in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Development of the strategy was endorsed at the faculty executive level and included an audit of arrangements within the faculty and at other universities. The process was driven by a committee that included the dean, deputy dean and community representatives. The audit identified structural and academic support systems that could be adapted for Monash University.

Monash University’s Indigenous Health Strategy is supported by a range of institution-wide initiatives including an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment strategy and employee database, community engagement, cultural awareness initiatives and a commitment to doubling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student numbers by 2015.

Headline outcomes from the strategy include the creation of a School for Indigenous Health (an Indigenous clinical school with a faculty-wide function), a Faculty Committee for Indigenous Health (reporting to the dean and responsible for setting and reviewing performance targets), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community participation in decision making, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health student services program, and articulation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes in faculty strategic planning documents.

The strategy is viewed as a comprehensive model that explicitly involves faculty executive, centralises reporting and monitoring, and devolves operational responsibilities to each school. This comprehensiveness is seen as critical to its success. To date, the faculty has implemented the head of school arrangement, allocated program funding, and established the Faculty Committee for Indigenous Health. Every school must report to the committee and the committee decides what action is needed. Philanthropic support is also a success factor; however, full operationalisation has been delayed by a year due to global financial issues (it is now expected to become fully operational in 2013).

The University of Western Australia – governance structures and key performance indicators

Responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education permeates the University of Western Australia’s decision-making and accountability structures, from the Vice-Chancellor down. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation rates are included in the indicators by which the Vice-Chancellor’s performance is assessed and rewarded.

Structurally, the School of Indigenous Studies is positioned at the same level as a faculty and is led by a dean. The dean, like other faculty heads, reports directly to the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and is a member of all high-level decision-making bodies, including the Academic Board, the Academic Council, the Planning and Budget Committee, the Senior Management Group, the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Group, and various working parties and committees. The engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff at all levels in the university’s governance has enabled staff to gain a broader understanding of the sector and develop leadership skills.

Positioning the School of Indigenous Studies alongside the faculties provides sustained input into all university strategic planning, including the Operational Priorities Plan. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement in formal and informal governance structures at senior management level and across the university has meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education is embedded in the university’s policy and planning decisions from the outset. This has had a direct impact on the consideration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education within university budget processes and improved the provision of funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs. The university’s approach seeks to ‘normalise’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters within university business, and ensure deans’ and other senior managers’ awareness of the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters. Reporting and accountability measures promote shared responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education outcomes.