The low number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students completing Year 12 with the knowledge and skill levels required for university entrance presents a major barrier to increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are less likely than their non-Indigenous peers to consider university a realistic option. Programs that include mentoring and peer networks have the potential to support students to remain in school to the end of Year 12. Similarly, programs that provide a taste of university life can help potential students to consider university study and make a successful transition.
9.1.1 Critical success factors
Critical success factors include:
- pathways are clearly articulated, easy to navigate and promoted in partnership with schools and VET institutes
- students have an opportunity to experience university life and study before they commit
- mentoring and academic support are provided to schoolchildren, enhancing both their school outcomes and articulation into higher education.
9.1.2 Key challenges
Key challenges include:
- meeting the cost of providing individual mentoring and additional academic support, particularly for regional and remote students
- building aspirations of students to see university study as a viable option.
University of the Sunshine Coast – Headstart Program
The University of the Sunshine Coast’s Headstart Program is a transition program aimed at enabling Year 11 and 12 students to study two subjects at university while completing secondary school and giving them a taste of university study. The program is available to all senior secondary school students and immerses them in university subjects across faculties, including subjects not available in the school curriculum. Headstart is designed to enhance students’ knowledge, skills and school performance, while providing a new pathway to university study.
The program is targeted broadly at Year 11 and 12 students. However, it is promoted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by Murri Pathways, a Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment program that aims to increase awareness of career options among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Years 8 to 12.
Headstart introduces students to fellow students, staff and the campus, and gives them an understanding of a university workload, assessment requirements and how to access study support. Students engage in independent learning and are responsible for their own attendance and assessment.
Each university subject completed under the program contributes two credits towards the Queensland Certificate of Education and relevant university degrees. Those who complete Headstart are guaranteed admission to any University of the Sunshine Coast degree for which they meet prerequisite requirements.
The university’s Buranga Centre tailors culturally appropriate academic and student support for participants, including the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme – Tertiary Tuition.
Queensland Consortium – a coordinated approach
Eight universities in Queensland and the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment are collaborating in a statewide effort to stimulate interest and widen participation in tertiary study by people from low socio-economic status and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. The universities are Australian Catholic University, CQUniversity, Griffith University, James Cook University, Queensland University of Technology, University of Queensland, University of Southern Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast. The arrangement is underpinned by a memorandum of understanding.
The approach acknowledges the decentralised nature of Queensland’s population and the large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people from low socio-economic status backgrounds. It seeks to increase schooling, higher education and employment outcomes for these groups.
The approach is multi-layered and holistic. It builds on existing capacity in the Indigenous Education Units in the universities with an emphasis on local needs. It seeks to raise awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives within the sector and address the issues of remoteness, access to information technology and trends in employment and education.
Project activities include university outreach to parents and communities, aspirational and academic support for school students (mentoring, personal development workshops, homework centres, on-campus camps, links with sports programs and social networking), preparatory and bridging programs and career advice for prison inmates, community education for adults, and capacity building for people working with students and communities.