Chapter 5 - Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff

Indigenous people do not come empty handed to Australia’s higher education system but bring significant strengths, both in knowledge capital and human capital that enriches higher education in Australia ( IHEAC submission to Bradley Review (Thomas 2008, p. 8)).

The Australian Technology Network’s submission to the Bradley Review noted that the recruitment and retention of high-quality academic staff is ‘the single biggest issue confronting the sector over the next decade’ (ATN 2008, p. 14, cited in Bradley et al. 2008, p. 22). Workforce renewal in general, and specifically in replacing an ageing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university workforce, is crucial for the continuation of a thriving university sector.

About a quarter of all submissions to the Review indicated that increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff was critical to increasing access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (both undergraduate and postgraduate).115

The Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council’s submission to the Panel noted the benefits that flow from increasing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce within universities:

From the perspective of students, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [university] workforce provides education role models, helping young people to lift their aspirations towards going to university, doing well, and continuing on to further study. Similarly, in non-academic positions Indigenous staff members play a crucial role in creating a safe and inclusive academy for capable students who may not otherwise feel that university is the place for them.

At an institutional level, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members enrich the content of their universities, exposing all students to different perspectives and modelling the forms of cultural competency needed by our graduates in contemporary Australia (submission no. 73, IHEAC, p. 9).

The Panel notes the importance of the recent National Indigenous Higher Education Workforce Strategy, which was prepared by the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council, endorsed by Universities Australia and launched in June 2011 ( IHEAC 2011). The Panel’s recommendations are consistent with the thrust of the strategy, which Universities Australia hopes will ‘assist in bringing Indigenous staff to population parity by 2020’ (submission no. 59, Universities Australia, p. 5).

The Panel believes that increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff will involve two key strategies—universities ‘growing their own’ among existing university staff, and recruiting new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to join their teams. Universities will need to consider creative approaches to recruitment and back that up with positive retention strategies to avoid churn of staff through the workplace. Such strategies may include mentoring, professional development and flexible study leave options.

115 Twenty-six submissions raised issues concerning needs for further Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.