7.1 Development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education strategy and the role of the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council

Strategies to improve access for Indigenous Australians into higher education need to be nested within a broader and more robust Indigenous higher education strategy (Anderson 2011, p. 4).

In conducting this Review, the Panel has aimed to build on the Closing the Gap agenda and other Indigenous education and broader development policies and action plans to drive stronger social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. It has argued throughout the report that increased efforts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education need to link in with existing efforts to improve Indigenous educational outcomes and Indigenous economic development.

The Panel believes that the next step in response to this report is for the government and universities, in close partnership with other sectors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic leaders, to develop a coherent performance framework within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education strategy.

Such a strategy needs to articulate pathways from early school through to professions and set out short-, medium- and longer-term priorities and actions for government and others based on the recommendations in this report. The Panel notes that the development and implementation of this strategy will require leadership, partnerships and collaboration, and monitoring of progress in delivering outcomes. It will be important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics across the sector provide their expertise and input into the strategy.

In this context, the Panel has considered the role that could be played by the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (IHEAC). The council, now in its third term, is appointed by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and is comprised of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics and administrators. In 2011, IHEAC appointed a new member with expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues at the school level to increase linkages between the schools and higher education sectors. Currently, this position is filled by a representative from the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated.

Since its inauguration in 2004, IHEAC has provided policy advice to government on improving outcomes in higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff relating to their participation, retention and progression both in study and in employment. The council reports to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.

The Panel believes that IHEAC can play an important role in responding to the recommendations outlined in the report and could provide leadership and advice on these matters.

The Panel suggests that to fulfil this role IHEAC would need a mix of skills and perspectives in its membership, reflecting the range of partners that should be involved in this collaborative effort. However, the Panel notes that these are matters for the Minister’s consideration.

Recommendations

Recommendation 33

That the Australian Government work with the higher education sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, students, communities and other stakeholders to develop an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education and research strategy that responds to the recommendations of this report.

Recommendation 34

That the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council play a leadership role and an advisory role to the Minister on the development and implementation of the proposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education and research strategy in response to this Review.