In Australia, regional and remote Indigenous students are under‐represented in both higher education and vocational education and training. Access (or enabling) education programs are important in lifting participation rates and potentially in encouraging mobility between the sectors. However, there is a clear lack of evidence underpinning their development.
This report summarises a 12‐month research project which sought to explore current practices in Indigenous access courses, particularly in the context of regional, dual‐sector universities. This project aimed to understand the practices and experiences of Indigenous access programs, with a view to designing a best‐practice framework and implementation statement.
The research sought to explore how Indigenous learning journeys can respect and grow cultural identity while simultaneously developing study skills, particularly in the context of studying at a regional university. It also aimed to investigate how interpretations of ‘success’ can be considered from the perspectives of the student, their community and the institution. This research particularly focuses on access education programs. In doing so, it acknowledges that, while access education is only a small slice of the lifelong education journey, it is a critically important one for many Indigenous peoples.
This research builds on the work of Cajete (1994), who wrote about pathways in relation to Indigenous education. Cajete’s work has much relevance in exploring Indigenous access education, with its concepts of ‘path’ and ‘way’. The ‘path’ in this context is the well‐thought‐out structure on which the curriculum is developed combined with the landscape of the university (or other learning institution). The ‘way’ refers to the process for students as they navigate their educational institution as part of their learning journey. This may also involve some transformation within the inner Self. For a successful access education experience, we contend that both these elements must knit together to form the student’s own learning ‘path+way’.
In developing a best‐practice conceptual framework for Indigenous access programs, we consider pedagogy, curriculum and mode of delivery, superimposed by the institutional ethos and drivers for implementation, and framed by local, regional and national Indigenous perspectives. In future work, these issues will be deliberated upon in conjunction with these research outcomes to develop further approaches for Indigenous access education. Support structures for staff will also be considered. Ultimately, the strengthening of access education for Indigenous Australians is seen as an excellent platform for offering Indigenous students the best chance of ‘success’ – recognising that ‘success’ is a multi‐layered concept that includes issues of participation (for the institution), reaffirming personal identify and confidence (for the learner) and broader community and indirect benefits.