Enhancing Vocational Education and Training (VET) to higher education pathways and transitions for Indigenous students is important. Dual-sector universities are well positioned to take the lead in strengthening pathways and transitions for Indigenous students by harnessing the opportunities and addressing the challenges they face. A scoping literature review, focus groups and a survey of staff and students highlighted the need for greater community engagement and partnerships, and enabling programs that develop academic preparedness and the strengthening of self-efficacy in students.
Indigenous people participate in Australian higher education at significantly lower rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts, are less likely to complete Year 12, and less likely to gain an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank deemed necessary for higher education admission. Indigenous people are more likely to enter higher education later in life and less likely to gain admittance into a university based on their prior educational achievement, while their average rates of completion of higher education courses are at least twice as low as those of their non-Indigenous peers.
More Indigenous students enrol in Vocational Education and Training (VET) which could provide a feasible pathway for Indigenous students into higher education. Yet, transitions and pathways into higher education are often convoluted. Supporting the transition of Indigenous students from VET to higher education promises to increase Indigenous higher education participation, which is particularly crucial for regional and remote Indigenous students who have completed a VET qualification. Unfortunately, VET to higher education pathways are relatively uncommon with only 4.9 per cent of Indigenous students currently making this transition.
Objectives and methodology
While enabling programs have received significant recent attention, the potential of the VET to higher education pathways to increase Indigenous higher education participation remains largely unexplored. This project expanded on this gap by moving research beyond the investigation of enabling programs, towards a deeper examination of additional practice-based (and evidence-informed) strategies being developed by dual-sector universities in Australia.
This project sought to identify practical strategies for enhancing VET to higher education transitions for Australian Indigenous students. The research team achieved this by:
- producing a scoping literature review of relevant national and global scholarship about VET to higher education pathways and transitions for Indigenous learners in Australia
- facilitating focus groups to explore the experiences and perspectives of teaching staff, academics and decision-makers tasked with supporting Indigenous students transitioning or wishing to transition from VET to higher education, successful strategies and challenges of transitions being a central aim of inquiry
- administering a survey of staff and Indigenous students to gauge experiences, intentions and difficulties of VET to higher education pathways.
The research identified potential approaches to enhance systems, policies and practices that dual-sector universities can develop and implement to improve the prospects of:
- Indigenous student transition from VET to higher education
- Indigenous student participation in the higher education sector
- more strategically aligned investments to increase Indigenous higher education participation
- improved Indigenous education trajectories and outcomes in Australia.
Key findings and recommendations
The report concluded that there is significant potential to increase VET to higher education transitions among Indigenous students, if supportive tertiary education environments are present.
Key factors enabling such supportive environments include:
- targeted outreach and engagement work
- support of a clear vision where pathway options are concerned
- enhanced and well-aligned policies and practice
- additional applied research into the remaining gaps.
Conclusions and considerations for policy
VET to higher education pathways and transitions are a viable pathway option for Indigenous students, but further action is required to support such transitions.
The need to facilitate students’ post-school transitions by developing student resilience, institutional responsiveness and policy reflexivity through transformative education is required at national and sub-national levels. Dual-sector universities are well positioned to take a lead role in strengthening Indigenous pathways and transitions. There is also an urgent need for greater community engagement and partnerships, as well as enabling programs that develop academic preparedness and the strengthening of self-efficacy in students.
The review also highlighted significant gaps in research, including:
- the student perspective on transitioning through the tertiary education sector
- learners’ actual experiences in their educational journeys
- the educational pathways of students moving between sectors
- whether remoteness from providers and low socioeconomic status act separately or in concert as barriers to tertiary participation
- the pathways experience of urban Indigenous students
- gender as a factor within the remoteness context
- the transition from lower-level to higher-level qualifications in the VET sector
- the VET in Schools experiences and outcomes of Indigenous students.
Anecdotally there have been many programs that have supported Indigenous VET to higher education pathways. These have usually been nested in sector-specific programs tailored to Indigenous student needs, most notably in the education sector. However, there is relatively little information and peer-reviewed evidence about the process, impact and outcome of such programs. Research on these issues will provide a more complete picture in which to inform future investments.