Chapter 8 - Whole-of-university approach

On this page:

Some universities have adopted a strategic approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and research that extends across the university. The following are three examples of a whole-of-university approach.

The University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has achieved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students that are approaching those for the non-Indigenous population, particularly in such high-priority areas as medicine, nursing and allied health services. They attribute their success to an approach that is embedded and supported at a whole-of-university level. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outcomes are included as key performance measures in the university’s strategic planning processes and supported by the university’s executive committee.

The university’s strategic plan prioritises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collaboration and sets ambitious targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student and staff participation. Responsibility for achieving these outcomes is shared across the institution, with all areas required to incorporate them into their own internal planning and reporting processes.

Strategies to support outcomes include a reconciliation statement and Reconciliation Action Plan that promotes connection with communities and ongoing collaboration. The statement is published in the university’s strategic plan.

The university’s Wollotuka Institute consolidates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activities into a central facility, including the provision of both academic and student support. It works with other areas of the university to implement these activities and provide mentorship to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students. The institute is not expected to manage everything related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, but to act as an enabler. It provides a model of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led management and governance. Institute directors provide advice to the senior executive and are guided by the university’s all-Indigenous Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Training.

The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-related research programs are led and undertaken by academics in the Umulliko Indigenous Higher Education Research Centre within the Wollotuka Institute. This centre provides cultural, personal and academic support to students undertaking higher degrees by research, including financial support, access to research facilities, professional development workshops and assistance with conference attendance.

An Elder-in-Residence program is funded to support students and staff, and to guide liaison with the university community. The position is currently funded for 20 hours a week for a two-year period.

The university examines needs within the community and determines and develops courses to fit these needs. For example, Aboriginal Studies was changed to a Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice and has attracted demand for work placements. The university is also trying to build the science base. A team of seven people works with families, students, schools, and local community organisations and councils. The team organises guest talks, barbecues, campus tours and workshops. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content is embedded in courses across all faculties, particularly in health, education, law, social work and environmental science. The university has set a target for 350 courses to contain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural knowledges by 2015.

The university has a range of school outreach activities, including Making Education Goals Sustainable (for Year 5 to 7 students), programs run across the state for Year 7 to 12 students, a mobile education unit providing rural outreach, and summer schools in mathematics and science (for Year 9 students, particularly those at risk of dropping out of school and from disadvantaged backgrounds). Students are employed on a casual basis to help with outreach and role model work, including cadetships in the faculties and secondments from the Wollotuka Institute to external organisations. The university works with final-year undergraduate students on building aspirations. Students are tracked through outreach programs on a database.

Other activities include the expansion of scholarship support through the Indigenous Business and Industry Scholarships, and development of a pre-medical program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking entry into the Bachelor of Medicine—Joint Medical Program.

University of Technology, Sydney

The University of Technology, Sydney has introduced a whole-of-university approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, student support, research, employment, teaching and learning through the Indigenous Education Strategy. The Indigenous Education Strategy is the primary planning and implementation document regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education at the university. This multi-year document hangs off the Strategic Plan and sets out specific initiatives to progress the plan’s objectives.

The Indigenous Education Strategy is driven by the Indigenous Education Committee and establishes four subcommittees to address four target areas. Each subcommittee is chaired by a senior academic. The strategy allocates responsibility for implementation to deans, deputy vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors, as well as the Vice-Chancellor and senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

The strategy resulted from a review of one faculty and the realisation that effective change would not be achieved without a whole-of-university approach. It was also recognised that the Indigenous Education Unit—Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning—could not be the sole driver of that change. Responsibility for student support, research, teaching, learning and employment had to be shared between the centre and the faculties. This approach now drives changes across the university.

The strategy sets benchmark targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate and postgraduate student enrolment rates. These targets reflect state population parity and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate and postgraduate progression and completion rates equal to those of other undergraduate and postgraduate students at the university. The strategy aims to ensure that all courses specifically offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are high quality, appropriately supportive, academically rigorous and aligned to the expectations of students and the requirements of potential employers. The strategy helps develop and promote research across the university. The strategy also aims to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff employment rates that reflect the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working population, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander retention rates and levels of seniority commensurate with the university’s non-Indigenous staff.

The University of Sydney

A review carried out by the University of Sydney College of Health Sciences in 2005 recommended measures to strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolment and engagement across its five faculties. The university had seen improvements since its first outreach initiatives in the 1950s, but these had been neither consistent nor generalised.

A review commissioned in 2009 recommended that the university make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education an ‘area of core business for the entire University deserving of the status and infrastructure of similar areas such as learning and teaching, research, engagement with community and internationalisation’.

On the advice of a working group of deans and other senior officers, the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) was created in 2011 and Wingara Mura Bunga Burrabugu – The University of Sydney Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Integrated Strategy was approved in 2012. Wingara Mura Bunga Burrabugu means ‘thinking path to make tomorrow’ in the Aboriginal languages of the Sydney region.

Wingara Mura reinvigorates the university’s journey by focusing attention on reformist and innovative approaches to the challenges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education. It seeks to position the university as a uniquely Australian university and to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education, research and engagement core business, and not structurally, culturally or organisationally marginalised.

Wingara Mura rejects the discourse of disadvantage and instead builds on promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human rights, creation of opportunity and enrichment of people’s capability to pursue a university experience that is of intrinsic and instrumental value and merit.

New admission pathways are being introduced to ensure that the university does not exclude quality students. The administrative burden on students and their families is being reduced. Better outreach is being developed, and wrap-around student services and support have commenced. Cultural competence will become a graduate attribute for all students. The university will address outdated or inappropriate cultural, systemic and behavioural barriers that impede access to study or work at the university.

Wingara Mura establishes targets for the university with respect to students, staff and research. More specific project milestones in other areas of reform will be identified in the design of local implementation plans.

Strategic targets include:

  • over five years, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying at the university will double
  • over five years, non-Indigenous student interest, engagement and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues will rise by 50%
  • within four years, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic staff complement of 75 will be employed and 97 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff will be employed in the general stream
  • within four years, the number of staff and students engaged in research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues will increase by at least 40%
  • within four years, funding from all sources for research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander areas will increase by at least 25%
  • within four years, at least two international partnerships will be established to explore the Aboriginal knowledge journey with Indigenous peoples, relevant organisations and universities, research funding will be secured and research on the top 60% of identified research priorities will have commenced
  • by 2015, all existing and new staff will undertake an approved cross-cultural training program.

The strategy acknowledges the significant role that faculties and professional service units play in designing commitments and setting targets relating to learning and teaching, operations and planning. These parties will be responsible for developing local implementation plans and the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) will provide guidance. Each faculty or unit will establish a staff-based project team to support local implementation. It is expected that a senior staff member (dean or director) will act as executive sponsor. Sharing of information and experiences across the university will be encouraged. The Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the local project team and executive sponsor will review progress and continued relevance of strategies, until the transition to ‘business as usual’ has been achieved.