Once Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reach universities, there is a range of factors that can influence their success. It is critical that universities build on their existing efforts and work more closely with other institutions, businesses, professional bodies and communities to encourage and support successful students, staff and researchers within higher education.
The new paradigm needs to be built on the successful elements of the old model but provide much sharper focus on the development of institutional strategies to support the development of partnerships, pathways, productivity and Indigenous leadership (Pechenkina & Anderson 2011, p. 2).
Once at university, the focus on support must be maintained because ‘access without effective support is not opportunity’ (Tinto 2008, cited in Pechenkina & Anderson 2011, p. 3). Recruitment to university is the entry point, while a long-term professional career contributing to our nation’s growth should be the destination for a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Across the sector, there will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach that can be applied as each university offers a unique environment in which to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander success among its students and staff. Student enrolment and retention patterns vary greatly across universities, with some having high enrolment rates but low retention and completion rates and others having relatively low enrolment rates but achieving high retention or completion rates (Pechenkina, Kowal & Paradies 2011, p. 62, Table 2; p. 63, Table 3).
The interaction of changes in enrolments and completion rates must be carefully monitored. For example, if a university significantly increases its enrolment levels, it may achieve little improvement in completion rates without increased resourcing and additional targeted effort to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are supported to complete their qualifications. Higher numbers of completions will be critical to driving increased numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic staff, senior staff and researchers.
Lasting change hinges upon the support and leadership at the highest levels within each individual university, and therefore supportive governance structures and strategies will need to underpin initiatives outlined in the following sections. In summary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and student issues will need to be considered as core university business, as everyone’s responsibility, and reflected and integrated across all aspects of university life—in business planning, budgets, management structures, curriculums and senior staff. Complementing this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and issues will need to be integrated and not marginalised within university administration, research and faculties.
Underpinning all these required changes for students, staff and researchers, the Panel recommends a whole-of-university approach be adopted by each university. The elements of this kind of approach are discussed in more detail in the remaining sections of the report. Together, they will provide the strategic framework and coherent policy settings across all areas of university business to deliver success.