In 2016, the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training funded the Addressing the Gap between Policy and Implementation: Strategies for Improving Educational Outcomes of Indigenous Students research project.
A partnership between five universities; Central Queensland University, Charles Darwin University, James Cook University, The University of Newcastle and the University of South Australia, the project aimed to:
• benchmark five case-study universities against the 2012 Review of Higher Education: Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People report findings (Behrendt et al 2012);
• explore enablers and barriers to Aboriginal students participation in, and completion of, higher education at each case-study site; and
• develop processes for returning and retaining indigenous higher education students at each institutions using an indigenist participatory action research approach.
This report presents the methods and findings from the second and third phases of the project for the fifth case study institution. The second phase of the project explored, through semi-structured interviews, the experiences of staff and students at the case-study university and identified enablers and barriers to higher education participation common to their experiences. The third phase of the project at the case study site used a site specific participatory action approach to explore existing best practice across the institution and co-construct an evidence-based best practice model for supporting and retaining Aboriginal students undertaking higher education.
The report proceeds in the following way.
The first sections of the report provide an overview of the research aims, participating case-study university and participants and documents the key methodological challenges faced in engaging already dis-engaged students in the research process. The middle sections of the report present the key barriers to participation identified by students and staff (financial stress, personal factors, living with disabilities, racism and the lack of aboriginal content and knowledges in course content) as well as the enablers identified by participants (pastoral support, financial support, tutoring assistance, Aboriginal community engagement, identity and capacity building, and family support). These barriers and enablers are illustrated using participants narratives and summarised as disengaging and engaging messages. The final sections of the report articulate a co-constructed best-practice model for retaining and returning Aboriginal students to higher education study and outlines five principles -evidence-based, people-centric, ICT-systems support, tailored augmented pedagogies and enhanced work transitions – critical to Australian universities improving higher education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.