Tutoring and study skills assistance can provide valuable support to university students, particularly in the crucial early years of their qualifications. In recognition of the educational disadvantage still experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Australian Government provides supplementary funding to universities to arrange tutorial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme – Tertiary Tuition (ITAS-TT).
ITAS-TT provides for up to two hours tutorial support per subject per week for undergraduate students who have been assessed as:
- just passing and who would improve with additional tuition
- previously performing satisfactorily but who are having difficulty with a new component of the course
- requiring tutorial support to achieve an academic level or ranking required to proceed to a subsequent stage or course of study.
ITAS-TT support is also available to postgraduate students in limited circumstances. The support is specific for the course of study. ITAS-TT provided tutorial support to 2,654 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 2010 (24% of all Indigenous students). More than 123,000 hours of one-on-one tuition and more than 5,000 hours of group tuition was provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students across a range of fields. In 2010, $11.9 million was allocated in ITAS-TT funding to 38 eligible higher education institutions.
While ITAS-TT is popular with students, a number of issues with the program have been identified
The Panel found that ITAS-TT is a popular program in the sector and recognised that it provided essential support to students in terms of developing their academic skills and their understanding of course content. ‘Delegates at the [National Union of Students] Indigenous Conference expressed their support for the ITAS scheme and believed that it was a [sic] vital in enhancing the retention of many Indigenous students’ (submission no. 31, National Union of Students, p. 10). Students referred to the benefits of the support in interviews conducted for this Review.
It’s pretty much what has seen me through a lot of my units (Billy Kickett Morris, University of Western Australia).
Without my tutor I would have failed a few of my subjects … They have been really supportive (Jordan Raymond-Monro, Queensland University of Technology).
However, the Panel also found that institutions that deliver the program saw it as administratively burdensome, with guidelines that do not allow the kind of flexibility needed to support students in innovative ways (Brady 2012, p. 21). Several submissions commented on the administrative issue:
ITAS is administratively onerous and in its present form disadvantages a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student cohorts (submission no. 26, NATSIHC, p. 8).
Greater flexibility is required in the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS). This program has been a great support to students over many years. However, the regulations governing its delivery and the administrative burden of its management do not provide enough flexibility for institutions in delivering tuition services to those students in need (submission no. 20, La Trobe University, p. 5).
The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education manages ITAS-TT and a number of issues were raised by stakeholders in the course of a review of the program in 2011:
- The level of support was not always viewed as sufficient (i.e. two hours’ tuition support per subject per week).
- The rules around access to tuition were inflexible (i.e. students were unable to ‘stockpile’ their tuition hours under current program guidelines; however, in exceptional circumstances, providers could aggregate the maximum weekly assistance over a month to allow some flexibility).
- There was a lack of support for HDR and other postgraduate students (i.e. ITAS-TT funding could not be used to support them).
- The ability of institutions to attract high-quality, suitably qualified and culturally aware tutors and also more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tutors was questioned.
In addition, there are issues with recruitment of tutors, which a number of institutions attributed to the low rates of pay to tutors applied in the formula to calculate ITAS-TT funding. In 2012, these rates are $39.71 per hour for individual tuition and $46.74 per hour for group tuition. Universities informed the Panel that they view these rates as too low and not reflective of market rates for tutors.73 The panel notes that the ITAS-TT guidelines state these rates are used to calculate institutional funding entitlements and that institutions are responsible for paying tutors in accordance with agreed employment arrangements.
What needs to change?
The main message from the Panel’s consultations and the submissions to the Review was the ITAS TT program is highly valued but needs to be simplified in its administration and better targeted on student outcomes.
This one program has made a difference for Indigenous students over several decades … It would be helpful if ITAS guidelines were less prescriptive and allowed Centres to use the funds to best suit their cohort of students (Brady 2012, p. 4).
Therefore, the Panel has focused its consideration on how best to simplify the current arrangements with a stronger focus on achieving quality outcomes for students.
Refocus ITAS-TT funding on student needs and outcomes
The Panel supports a refocusing of the ITAS-TT program to ensure that it achieves the following outcomes for students and universities:
- an improved capacity to focus on student outcomes through funding incentives for completions
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who were previously unable to be supported under the program (including students who are doing enabling courses, students who are not at risk of failing and also postgraduate students) are able to access tutorial support
- reduced administrative burden on providers
- greater flexibility for providers and Indigenous Education Units, as requested during consultations, to develop tailored tutoring and other programs to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- exploration of a national database of tutors
- greater accountability through universities’ overall performance measures for student retention, progress and success
- clearer departmental guidelines and better information sharing with participating institutions. To implement this approach, government and universities should negotiate a new funding model that has a set of key performance indicators focused on the above outcomes.
That the Australian Government reform funding for supplementary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support programs, including the Indigenous Support Program and the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme – Tertiary Tuition (ITAS-TT), in time for the 2013 academic year, based on the following design principles:
- Allow universities greater flexibility to provide locally relevant, tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff.
- Target available funding to achieve an improvement in current enrolment levels but also with a greater emphasis on retention and completion rates.
- Ensure that funding would be simple to administer.
- Ensure that funding would support clear outcome-focused accountability for universities. The new funding model should include consideration of tutoring support for students who were previously ineligible for ITAS-TT assistance.
That universities collaborate to share tutoring ( ITAS-TT) best practice and explore the establishment of a national tutor database.