9.3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce

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Universities have a role to play in helping people in the workforce acquire new and deeper skills to improve their performance and productivity. The workforce is also a source for increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education as current workers in semi-professional roles seek higher education qualifications.

9.3.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • employers support study through flexible working arrangements, paid study leave and scholarships
  • teaching arrangements are flexible to the needs of students, through online delivery, block delivery and evening classes
  • mentoring is available within the university, from peers or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

9.3.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • getting employer support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to take time out to upgrade their qualifications
  • overcoming the financial and time pressures for employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who wish to engage in higher education.

9.3.3 Examples

Macquarie University – Master of Indigenous Education

Macquarie University introduced a new coursework Master of Indigenous Education program in 2012. The Master of Indigenous Education aims to fill a gap in postgraduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and contribute to the university’s blueprint for making Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education ‘everybody’s business’. Developed by Warawara – Department of Indigenous Studies, the program seeks to provide students with knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and of policies, practices and issues relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education.

Targeted largely at school teachers, the Master of Indigenous Education program will develop advanced knowledge in education practices appropriate for interacting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will also develop skills for teachers wishing to educate non-Indigenous students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and histories. The course includes two research units and is designed to offer a clear pathway to higher degrees by research.

Open to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students, significant components of the course are taught by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. The program is delivered in distance mode, utilising recent technology. Each unit has an interactive electronic learning platform enabling students to access their lectures remotely, accompanying slide shows, reading materials and a forum to converse with one another. The platform supports professional networking by its students, including teachers in early childhood, primary, secondary and higher education.

The program can also be undertaken at postgraduate certificate and postgraduate diploma levels. The postgraduate certificate meets the NSW Insititute of Teachers professional development requirements.

For the first cohort in 2012, the program enrolled 20 students, seven of whom were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, and many of whom resided in regional and remote areas. Early indicators suggest that the mid-year intake will attract a further 10 to 20 enrolments.