3.4 Other non-financial support for students

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Current situation

The Panel identified other non-financial issues that may prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from doing well at university or completing their degrees. Based on the consultations and submissions received by the Review, the Panel identified the need for further investigation into how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students access pastoral care and support networks.

What needs to change?

Audit of support/pastoral care services

The Panel found that culturally sensitive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counselling services are offered at a few universities. However, students do not always have access to culturally safe pastoral care. ‘Elders in residence’ counselling services are included in several pastoral care activities undertaken in some universities, but once again student access to this service is limited.

Given that a relatively high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are likely to be from regional and remote areas and therefore may be engaged in remote access study, pastoral support aimed at these distance learners is also important. For older female students who may be supporting children and extended family in their communities, they need good access to culturally sensitive health services, counselling, childcare and family assistance.

The Panel notes the National Union of Students recommendation that universities audit support services available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students both within Indigenous Education Units and the broader university support service provision, noting that:

[t]he findings of such an audit would enable institutions to understand the level of access for Indigenous students to support services at universities with lower retention rates, and how to encourage more students to access these services through examining practices at other universities with higher retention rates (submission no. 31, National Union of Students, p. 12).

Universities may wish to examine the adequacy of services they provide to their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, including looking at the findings of National Union of Students surveys.

Networks are important

Pechenkina & Anderson highlighted in their commissioned report to the Review that:

[a] recurring topic in the author’s [sic] research around factors of success among Indigenous students is that students seek out or create informal support networks and maintain their links with other students, academics and support staff throughout the duration of their degrees and often beyond (Pechenkina & Anderson 2011, p. 13).

They also referred to the existence of strong networks of HDR students and the role of external networks such as Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria (Pechenkina & Anderson 2011, p. 17).

Their findings were backed up by similar input to the Panel during consultations and from submissions, where the role of both informal and formal support networks were mentioned as important factors in student success.

It is important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have access to formalised support networks where they have access to a number of resources designed to assist them throughout their course. Students in remote and regional areas may not have access to online resources or IT support. They require a higher level of lecturer/tutor communication and commitment in order to complete their assignments to the best of their ability (submission no. 47, Curtin University Student Guild, pp. 6–7).

Universities may wish to consider how their informal and formal networks can be facilitated and strengthened to further support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, without placing any extra burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic staff. As noted later in the report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff often take on extra representative and support responsibilities within universities. The Panel suggests that such support responsibilities and development of networks should be coordinated across the faculties and mainstream support services.