Executive Summary



The Indigenous Cultural Competency Project

In April 2009, Universities Australia, in collaboration with the IHEAC, obtained support and grant funding from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to undertake a two year project on Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities. The ultimate aim of the project was to provide the Australian higher education sector with a best practice framework comprising the theoretical and practical tools necessary to embed cultural competency at the institutional level to provide encouraging and supportive environments for Indigenous students and staff, as well as to embed in non-Indigenous graduates the knowledge and skills necessary for them to provide genuinely competent services to the Australian Indigenous community.

The Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities Project comprised three primary stages:

  1. A stocktake of existing Indigenous cultural competency initiatives and programs in Australian universities to establish a clear baseline for Indigenous cultural competency activity.
      
  2. Four pilot projects of different aspects of cultural competency which were identified through the stocktake process as gaps in current knowledge and practice.
      
  3. The development of a National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities, to be informed by the stocktake of Australian institutions, the pilot projects and international and national examples of best practice.

This report represents both the third of those stages and the culmination of the Project as a whole. Drawing heavily upon the results and findings of the first two stages of the Project, this report provides a sound theoretical and evidential underpinning for cultural competence within the higher education context. While the report can stand alone, it is intended to support the content of the companion document, Guiding Principles for Developing Cultural Competency in Australian Universities, which is intended to be a more practical tool for institutional use.

What is Cultural Competency?

The report discusses at some depth the evolution over time of cultural competence from earlier concepts of cultural awareness and cultural safety – more limited concepts that provided an essential basis for, but did not extend as far as, cultural competence as it is considered today.

As it is a new concept, there is still no single definition of cultural competence, although there is agreement that it includes both internal and external factors, including self-assessment of one’s own cultural heritage as well as knowledge of other cultures and practices, and a consciousness about the interactions between them.

Cultural competency, although a general term, is contextual. For the purposes of the Australian higher education context, the following definition of cultural competency is used consistently throughout this report:

Student and staff knowledge and understanding of Indigenous Australian cultures, histories and contemporary realities and awareness of Indigenous protocols, combined with the proficiency to engage and work effectively in Indigenous contexts congruent to the expectations of Indigenous Australian peoples.

A culturally competent higher education sector will embrace these values thoroughly: throughout the organisational fabric of institutions and extending to every staff member and student.

Cultural Competence in Higher Education Institutions

While cultural competency is to be an all-encompassing theme throughout a university, teaching and learning strategies will be central to transmitting the concept and its associated behaviours to students and thus, via graduates, to the wider community.

The report includes a wide-ranging discussion of culturally competent pedagogy, including both theoretical models and curriculum design through to practical examples of classroom activities and suggestions for culturally competent assessment procedures. The report discusses the worth of embedding cultural competency as a formal graduate attribute, and the various ways in which this has been done at a number of institutions.

The report considers ways in which research on Indigenous topics and of Indigenous people – one of the most researched populations in the world – can be made culturally competent, and treated as more of a partnership between researchers and Indigenous communities. The report argues for greater Indigenous participation in the creation and management of ethics guidelines and in the accountability of research outcomes and conclusions.

The report considers ways in which the number of Indigenous researchers can be grown, and how their fields of endeavour – traditionally dominated by only a few research areas – can be expanded to cover the whole range of university research. Such expansion is necessary for universities to truly become part of the Indigenous landscape.

General Indigenous employment levels within universities need to improve substantially to reach population parity with the wider community. In particular, universities need to implement employment strategies that focus on long-term career building for Indigenous employees rather than short-term apprenticeships, internships and casual positions. Additionally, the higher education sector must take appropriate action to ensure that a university provides an appropriate environment for Indigenous employees to thrive and feel at home. This could include enhanced cultural competency training for non-Indigenous staff and flexible working arrangements.

Finally, the place of the university within the wider community is considered, and methods for integrating the university into, and engaging it with, Indigenous communities are proposed. Once again, for the higher education sector to be seen as a realistic environment for Indigenous students and staff, it must be prepared to embrace the Indigenous communities it seeks to serve.

Stocktakes of Practice

This report extensively documents the findings of the Project’s stocktake of domestic and international cultural competency practice. The stocktakes demonstrate that there is a wide variation between institutions in both their progress towards culturally competent operations and in the way they include competent practices in their operations.

The complete stocktake is included in the Appendices, but a large number of the best practices have been drawn out and included within the body of the report to provide examples of how cultural competence can be incorporated within a university. It is clear at this time that some institutions are more advanced than others, but the number of practices is growing all the time and the examples provided are merely a snapshot of the time the stocktake was undertaken at the end of 2009.

International examples of best practice are provided from a number of comparator countries (New Zealand, Canada, the United States and South Africa). Although their own circumstances are not directly analogous with Australia’s, they are similar enough that their examples of cultural competence best practice can be compared with domestic examples and, where the practices cross borders, provide further evidence of what makes for effective methodologies.

Guiding Principles for Indigenous Cultural Competency

The findings of the literature review, the stocktake of practice both in Australia and overseas and the four pilot projects have informed the creation of a set of five Guiding Principles for Indigenous Cultural Competency:

  • Indigenous people should be actively involved in university governance and management.
      
  • All graduates of Australian universities will have the knowledge and skills necessary to interact in a culturally competent way with Indigenous communities.
      
  • University research will be conducted in a culturally competent way in partnership with Indigenous participants.
      
  • Indigenous staffing will be increased at all appointment levels and, for academic staff, across a wider variety of academic fields.
      
  • Universities will operate in partnership with their Indigenous communities and will help disseminate culturally competent practices to the wider community.

These Guiding Principles provide the higher education sector with a framework for embedding Indigenous cultural competencies within and across the institution in sustainable ways which engender reconciliation and social justice by enabling the factors that contribute to social, economic and political change.

These Principles align with and enable the vision and goals for Indigenous higher education of the IHEAC (2007), the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (2007, the Vision for 2020 of the Review of Australian Higher Education (2008) and the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008). They also reflect the Terms of Reference of the IHEAC and broadly address the IHEAC’s seven Key Priority areas for Indigenous higher education.

Each of the five Principles is supported by a number of recommended best practices which have emerged through the Project as common adoptions and indicators of success.

The member institutions of Universities Australia are urged to adopt the Principles and seek ways to implement them that are attuned to their own particular circumstance and method of operation.

Finally, this report suggests a way forward for the reporting of institutional progress which strikes a compromise position between formal external processes and solely internal quality assurance mechanisms.

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History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education

The history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education since colonisation has been one of marginalisation and limited access, largely based on the ideologies of Social Darwinism and the twin European policy agendas of ‘civilising’ and ‘Christianising’ the Indigenous population. From the time of the establishment of the Native Institution at Parramatta, New South Wales, by Governor Macquarie in 1814, Western education was used to negate the cultures, languages, knowledge and identity of Indigenous children and peoples.

Access to education for Indigenous students prior to the 1960s was restricted by the institutional racism embedded in government policies such as the Aborigines Protection Acts, operational in all Australian States and Territories from 1909. Under these policies, the human rights and humanity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was largely ignored.  Many Indigenous communities and peoples were subjected to segregation on government reserves where their ability to practice self-determination and access mainstream societal resources, including employment, healthcare and education, was restricted by the control of authorities. Indigenous families were subjected to the psychological trauma of having children forcibly removed from their care and placed in institutions where the provision of education was limited to the development of rudimentary skills and knowledge deemed by the dominant society as appropriate for positions of domestic and rural servitude.

Educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians showed improvement after the 1967 Referendum, with a significant increase in Indigenous tertiary enrolments during the period 1980s to mid 1990s following the dismantling of policies deemed contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). By 1968 there was a total of eighteen (18) Indigenous Australian students enrolled in higher education, rising to seven hundred and fourty-eight (748) in 1979 and three thousand three hundred and seven (3,307) in 1988.

However, the end of the 1990s witnessed a marked decline in improvement in educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians across all educational sectors, particularly in rural and remote Australia. Many Indigenous students were leaving school poorly prepared relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts. An increased number of Indigenous students were disengaging with school prior to reaching or completing Year 10, with relatively few remaining at school to complete Year 11 and Year 12 or its vocational equivalent and even less obtaining the educational outcomes necessary to gain entry into University programs. Concern about these outcomes were raised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in their Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (1999: 22-23):

Education has arguably been one of the most successful areas of Indigenous development over the past 30 years with steadily increasing numbers of Indigenous students attaining higher education. But the rate of improvement has now faltered. Educational systems are failing Indigenous people at all levels in terms of equitable participation and achievement. There is evidence that basic skills such as being able to read, write and do simple arithmetic are in decline, particularly in rural and remote communities…Retention rates to Year 10…have declined at three times the rate of the general population…Indigenous retention rates to Year 12 are also much lower…If these disturbing trends are not arrested it will make the task of achieving higher jobs growth for Indigenous Australians even more difficult. (Report to the United Nation Human Rights Committee, 1999:22-23).

Attempts to address issues of access, retention and success

Indigenous education has been the focus of a number of national reports, inquiries and reviews over the past forty years, including the Education for Aborigines: Report to the Schools Commission (Aboriginal Consultative Group 1975), Access to Education: An Evaluation of the Aboriginal Secondary Grants Scheme (Watts 1976), Aboriginal Futures: A Review of Research and Developments and Related Policies in the Education of Aborigines (Watts 1981), Aboriginal Education (House of Representatives Select Committee on Aboriginal Education 1985), the Report of the Committee of Review of Aboriginal Employment and Training Programs (Miller 1985) and Report of the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force (Hughes 1988), A Chance for the Future: Training in Skills for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Community Management and Development (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs 1989), the National Report: Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (Commonwealth of Australia 1991), the Review of the Training for Aboriginals Program (Johnston 1991), Review of the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission 1994) and the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Yunupingu 1995), leading to the development of policy initiatives and strategies to address issues of access, reteHowever, the legacies of the historical marginalisation of Indigenous peoples from education are myriad and transgenerational and have proven difficult to overcome. As the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008) states,‘Indigenous people are vastly under-represented in higher education’ and their participation in higher education is ‘static or falling over the last decade’ (p. xii).

Indigenous Education Today

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples currently comprise 2.4% of the Australian population. According to every available socio-economic indicator, contemporary Indigenous Australians continue to experience significant disadvantage compared to other Australians. In relation to education, statistical data demonstrates that whilst increasing numbers of Indigenous students have engaged with secondary, vocational and higher education since the mid 1990s (see Figure 1), the long-term cumulative impact of 200 years of Western educational neglect and inequality of outcomes remain evident. For instance, as data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show, despite the gains that have been made in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education over the past fifteen years, a lack of parity remains between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes, particularly at higher levels of attainmentntion and success from early childhood through to higher education.

  • In 2008, only 71% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults attained Year 10 or basic vocational qualifications compared to 92% of non-Indigenous adults
      
  • Only 5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have attained a Bachelor degree or higher compared to 24% of non-Indigenous adults
      
  • A total of 10,465 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were enrolled in university courses in 2009, comprising less than 1.0% of all enrolments for that year
      
  • A total of 4,832 Indigenous Australian students commenced university study programs in 2009, representing just 1.0% of all student commencements
      
  • Between 2008 and 2009 the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continuing tertiary study increased across the sector by 9.8% for all students and 11.8% for commencing students
      
  • In 2009 Indigenous student enrolments in Mixed Field Programs, which include enabling, general and personal development education, increased by 45.6% to 753 students
      
  • In 2009 Indigenous students were predominately enrolled in programs within the fields of Society and Culture (3406 students, or 32.5% of the total Indigenous student enrolment), Education (2017 students) and Health (1802 students)
      
  • Indigenous enrolments in 2009 remained low in key professional areas such as science, technology, and architecture, yet Indigenous enrolments in Engineering and Related Technologies increased by 29.9% to 243 students
      
  • The retention and success rates of Indigenous students are approximately 80 per cent of those of non-Indigenous students
      
  • An increase of over 600% is required for the number of Indigenous PhD candidates to reach population parity

(Source: http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Publications/HEStatistics/Publications/
Documents/2009/09FullYearSummary.pdf
 accessed 3.3.2011 and IHEAC 2007).

Figure 1: Minimum Educational Attainment Achieved, Indigenous Persons 18 Years and Over - 1994, 2002 and 2008

Graph of minimum educational attainment achieved for Indigenous persons 18 years and over - 1994, 2002 and 2008

Source: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features50Mar+2011

Educational outcomes such as this perpetuate the intergenerational cycle of social and economic disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous Australians by limiting the post-school options and life choices of Indigenous people.

The underlying factors contributing to low participation and retention of Indigenous students in higher education are multi-faceted and include lack of academic preparedness or level of schooling obtained prior to university entry, lack of access to flexible delivery of programs which support learners in their regions or communities, poverty and associated issues of health and overcrowded or inadequate housing, competing family and community responsibilities, racism and discrimination and the cultural and intellectual exclusion experienced by many within the Western cultural and paradigmatic realm of Academia (RCIADIC, 1991; Department of Education, Science and Training, 2006).

As Frawley, Nolan and  White (2009) state:

‘Given the statistical evidence, it would be hard to deny that there has been significant growth in the participation of Indigenous students over the past two decades. However, we must constantly ask whether the learning journeys of those students have been quality experiences undertaken in culturally supportive learning environments, and whether Indigenous students…today truly feel part of the academy. For many Indigenous people, universities have remained white man’s institutions’, places where, of necessity, they have engaged in learning that has given them a qualification that is recognised in the outside world but has done little to enhance their value as Indigenous people. University curricula, governance and leadership have traditionally been attuned to the dominant Western paradigm with no acknowledged place for Indigenous knowledge systems, Indigenous pedagogy and Indigenous forms of governance and leadership’ (p. 1).

Similarly, in their Report to Members of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2009), the National Indigenous Higher Education Network (now the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Eduaction Consortium), argued that:

The successful implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Education rests upon the acceptance and implementation by nation states of a more culturally astute and competent education system. This system must be based upon a more inclusive set of criteria and an explicit set of values that underpin the development of policies to enhance the level of Indigenous participation and progression within the western education system. Such a system must be based upon a framework that is inclusive of Indigenous epistemologies and practices contained within the scholarship of Indigenous knowledge systems and cultural world views. Such a world view needs to underpin the disjuncture that exists between Indigenous and non Indigenous education and the appalling retention and graduation rates of minority students within mainstream institutions. While this is of major concern for Indigenous men, it raises particular issues for Indigenous women. statistically they are three times more likely than their male counterparts to enrol in post compulsory education, the retention and graduation rates of Indigenous women  continues to be an area of concern. There are many factors that contribute to this situation. Impoverishment, high incarceration and mortality rates of many Indigenous men, limited support networks and poor health act to inhibit the ability of many Indigenous women to progress successfully through the education system. The Australian Government’s commitment to “closing the gap” on Indigenous poverty and enhancing their emotional and social wellbeing will be to little avail if more strategic action  is not given to address these issues (p. 4).

Clearly,  ‘to achieve higher rates of Indigenous graduation, the whole of the university needs to be committed, both practically and philosophically, to that task…The point here is that Indigenous student success cannot occur without a concerted and a co-ordinated approach by the Australian university sector. If we are to redress current inequities universities need to take a leadership role in enhancing Indigenous higher education pathways and to adopt active and specific strategies for engaging Indigenous students and enhancing participation and successful completion’ (Andersen, Bunda and Walter 2008 p. 3).

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Indigenous Staff in Higher Education

The Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (2007:29) identified three additional primary factors affecting the access, retention, participation and completion of university study programs by Indigenous people:

  • The under-representation of Indigenous staff, particularly in senior positions and key decision-making and governance roles, management and research;
      
  • The general lack of knowledge, understanding, recognition and respect by universities of Indigenous knowledges, cultures and communities; and
      
  • ‘a perceived marginalisation of Indigenous higher education support [and academic] centres’ from the governance and broader teaching, learning and research operations of the university (p. 29).

Prior to the early 1970’s and the establishment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Support Programs, there was virtually no Indigenous staff employed in Australian universities. Support Programs began in South Australia with the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and Aboriginal Task Force. Often known as ‘enclaves’, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Support Programs were originally designed to support cohorts of Indigenous students enrolled in identified degree programs such as education. Support Programs gradually evolved into Support Units, employing Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff to provide more generalised support and services to Indigenous students across a wider range of discipline areas.

During 1980s and 1990’s Indigenous Support Programs began to adopt a greater academic role within universities, developing academic units or Schools alongside Support Programs. The first academic unit in Indigenous Studies was the School of Aboriginal Studies at the South Australian College of Advanced Education (later the University of South Australia). A number of motivating factors contributed to the development of Indigenous academic units or Schools, including the need to:

  • improve the quality of education for Indigenous students through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledges and perspectives into university programs;
      
  • improve the funding base for Indigenous units by increasing teaching roles across the university;
      
  • improve awareness of Indigenous issues across the wider student body.

As Andersen, Bunda and Walter (2008:6) suggest, ‘the presence of Indigenous staff within all facets of university life is centrally connected to Indigenous student success at both undergraduate and postgraduate level…[yet while] Universities are often major employers within their regions, their record of employing Indigenous staff is poor’. Anderson et al’s assertion is supported by the data in the table below:

Table 1: Number of Full-time and Fractional Full-time Indigenous Staff by State, Higher Education Provider, Function and Gender, 2010

State/Provider

Teaching
Only

Research Only

Teaching
Research

Other

Total

Total Persons

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

NSW

Avondale College

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

1

Charles Sturt University

0

2

0

0

2

5

11

23

13

30

43

Macquarie University

0

0

0

0

1

4

0

4

1

8

9

Southern Cross University

0

0

1

0

1

6

5

14

7

20

27

University of New England

0

0

0

0

2

1

3

10

5

11

16

University of New South Wales

0

0

4

0

3

6

9

11

16

17

33

University of Newcastle

0

0

1

4

8

6

20

28

39

28

67

University of Sydney

0

0

2

1

5

8

7

16

14

25

39

University of Technology, Sydney

0

0

2

2

2

7

3

9

7

18

25

University of Western Sydney

0

0

0

0

1

2

5

24

6

26

32

University of Wollongong

0

0

0

0

6

5

5

12

11

17

28

Total New South Wales

0

2

10

7

31

50

68

152

109

221

320

VICTORIA

Deakin University

0

3

0

0

2

5

6

6

8

14

22

La Trobe University

0

0

0

0

1

1

4

7

5

8

13

Melbourne College of Divinity

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

1

Monash University

0

0

0

2

2

4

2

16

4

22

26

RMIT University

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

3

3

3

6

Swinburne University

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

3

2

3

5

University of Melbourne

0

0

3

0

5

4

4

11

12

15

27

University of Ballarat

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

1

2

3

Victoria University

2

2

0

3

0

2

5

7

7

14

21

Total Victoria

2

5

3

5

13

16

25

55

43

81

124

QUEENSLAND

Central Queensland University

0

0

2

0

1

4

2

5

5

9

14

Griffith University

0

0

0

2

8

8

8

19

16

29

45

James Cook University

0

0

1

2

2

12

6

17

9

31

40

Queensland University Technology

1

2

0

1

2

5

10

24

13

32

45

University of Queensland

0

0

1

9

0

4

7

16

8

29

37

University of Southern Queensland

0

2

0

0

2

1

2

5

4

8

12

University of the Sunshine Coast

0

0

0

0

1

2

1

2

2

4

6

Total Queensland

1

4

4

14

16

36

36

88

57

142

199

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Curtin University of Technology

0

1

2

3

3

13

3

15

8

32

40

Edith Cowan University

0

0

0

0

2

3

6

13

8

16

24

Murdoch University

0

1

0

0

1

1

1

6

2

8

10

University of Notre Dame

1

0

0

0

0

1

2

1

3

2

5

University of Western Australia

0

0

0

1

5

9

7

11

12

21

33

Total Western Australia

1

2

2

4

11

27

19

46

33

79

112

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Flinders University

0

0

2

3

5

7

3

11

10

21

31

University of Adelaide

0

0

0

2

3

4

5

9

8

15

23

University of South Australia

0

0

0

3

2

6

4

8

6

17

23

Total South Australia

0

0

2

8

10

17

12

28

24

53

77

TASMANIA

University of Tasmania

0

0

0

0

2

4

7

12

9

16

25

Total Tasmania

0

0

0

0

2

4

7

12

9

16

25

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Batchelor Institute

1

5

0

2

0

0

19

43

20

50

70

Charles Darwin University

2

1

1

4

2

3

14

25

19

33

52

Total Northern Territory

3

6

1

6

2

3

33

68

39

83

122

Australian Capital Territory

Australian National University

0

0

1

2

3

0

9

6

12

8

20

University of Canberra

0

0

0

0

0

3

1

0

1

3

4

Total Australian Capital Territory

0

0

1

2

3

3

10

6

13

11

24

Multi-State

Australian Catholic University

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

7

9

15

Total Multi-State

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

7

9

15

TOTAL INDIGENOUS STAFF

7

17

22

39

83

147

200

407

312

610

923

% total Indigenous staff 2010

0.8

1.8

2.4

4.2

9.0

15.9

21.7

44.1

33.8

66.1

100%

 

Data from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) Selected Higher Education Statistics shows that Indigenous staff comprise less than 1% of all university staff. While there has been a notable increase in the employment of Indigenous academics and general staff across the sector between the years 2001 to 2010 from 552 to 1022, measures clearly need to be taken to achieve parity, both of employment and type.

Table 1: Number of Indigenous Australian Higher Education Staff 2001-2010

Type of Employment

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2010

General Staff

323

348

372

434

503

491

682

Academic Staff

229

240

261

266

301

278

340

Total Indigenous Staff

552

588

633

700

804

796

1022

 

The number of Indigenous staff varies considerably across the sector and Australian States and Territories (see Table 2 below). In 2010, New South Wales has the highest number of Indigenous staff (320) while Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and South Australia have the lowest at 25, 27 and 77 respectively. Continuing the trend from 2001, Indigenous staff are predominately employed in general staff positions and/or in Indigenous Support or Academic Centres within universities. Similarly, only 271 Indigenous academic staff were employed to lead Indigenous teaching and learning within the higher education institutions of Australia in 2010 and only 69 Indigenous staff were employed in ‘Research Only’ positions.

Whilst a statistical breakdown from 2010 of the number of Indigenous staff by qualification and current duties classification was found to be unavailable, DEEWR Selected Higher Education Statistics data from 2006 provides evidence of significant lack of parity compared to non-Indigenous staff across all levels of academic employment and qualification level. For example, of the 278 Indigenous academic staff employed within the higher education sector in 2006 less than 12% had Doctoral qualifications compared to nearly 60% of non-Indigenous academic staff. Only 37 Indigenous Australian academics held Associate Professor and Professorial level positions (Level D and E) compared to 9,234 non-Indigenous academic staff. Only 46 Indigenous academic staff were employed at Senior Lecturer (Level C) compared to 9,626 non-Indigenous staff, 116 Indigenous academics were classified at Lecturer (Level B) compared to 13,340 non-Indigenous academics and 81 at Level A (Associate Lecturer/’Below Lecturer’) compared to 8,016 non-Indigenous academics (cited in IHEAC, 2007:72-74).

Table 2: Number of Full-time and Fractional Full-time Indigenous Staff by State and Function 2010

State/Territory

Teaching
Only

Research
Only

Teaching
Research

General

Total

NSW

2

17

81

220

320

Victoria

7

8

29

80

124

Queensland

5

18

52

124

199

Western Australia

3

6

38

65

112

South Australia

0

10

27

40

77

Tasmania

0

0

6

19

25

Northern Territory

9

7

5

101

122

Australian Capital Territory

0

3

6

18

27

Multi State

0

0

1

15

16

Total

26

69

245

682

1022

Source: http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Publications/HEStatistics/Publications/Documents/2009/09FullYearSummary.pdf

In linking low Indigenous staff participation in higher education with low student participation and educational outcomes, Anderson, Bunda and Walter (2008) state that:

The lack of Indigenous staff within universities is also centrally connected to Indigenous student success at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. At present the vast majority of Indigenous staff, in Australian universities are positioned within Indigenous centres and while, as argued, these centres are vitally important, as a consequence, outside of these centres, the university remains a virtually Indigenous free-zone. These patterns send a powerful underlying message to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students about the place of Indigenous people within the higher education sector, as both separate and different. It also means that Indigenous students are largely bereft of role models and culturally competent support and supervision outside the Indigenous centres. To remedy this situation, we need to create a platform for the development of an Indigenous academia so that Indigenous staff teach and research across all disciplines. The adage of “growing your own” is particularly relevant to building a core of Indigenous academics to be role models and to lead a resurgence of Indigenous research activity. To do this universities need to commit to employing Indigenous staff from the current and future student cohort and also support current Indigenous staff to develop their academic qualifications and profiles. Indigenous employment needs to become standard within universities and not just into the centres and should be funded from the operational budget of the university rather than rely on external subsidised funding (p. 6).

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Role of Universities as Agents of Change

Social justice is a term commonly used to describe notions of equality or access to equal rights for all members of a society. These rights are generally seen to include the right to good health and to live in health promoting environments, the right to a quality education and meaningful employment, equality before the law, the right to practice one’s culture, and the right to self-determination over one’s life. These rights are also regarded as human rights.

Australia as a nation has a history of promoting itself both domestically and internationally as an egalitarian society founded on the principles of democracy and social justice. In other words, a land in which all people, regardless of heritage or social circumstance, have equal access to society’s valued resources and rights, along with equal ability to achieve to their full potential. However, such an ideology ignores the realities of life for many in a stratified capitalist economy such as Australia historically founded upon policies of racial discrimination that privileged ‘whiteness’. For the majority of Australians who are born into the lower socio-economic strata of the working and underclass of siociety, the ability to exercise one’s rights equally is tempered by the inability to economically afford many of the resources taken for granted by others in society. This situation is magnified for Indigenous Australians who, as a consequence of the ideology of ‘race’ and over two hundred years of economic, social and political marginalisation and subjugation are grossly over-represented in the lower echelons of the underclass and all social indicators related to health, education, employment and criminal justice.

Accordingly, social justice has been described by the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr Mick Dodson, as something which ‘must always be considered from a perspective which is grounded in the daily lives of Indigenous Australians’.

Social Justice is what faces you in the morning. It is awakening in a house with an adequate water supply, cooking facilities and sanitation. It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge and appreciation of their cultural inheritance. It is the prospect of genuine employment and good health: a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination (Annual Report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, 1993, AGPS, Canberra).

‘Education is the enabler from which all our life chances flow’ (Tom Calma, 2007) and the ‘spark to ignite genuine indigenous control of destinies’ (Lane (1998) cited in Bunda et al 2008 p. 2). It is the key which unlocks the door to meaningful and well paid employment, to better housing, health and access to society’s valued resources. It is the foundation stone for the practice of self-determination and achievement of social justice and Indigenous equality.

Indigenous higher education needs to be underpinned by a commitment to the capacity building of Indigenous communities if improvements are to be made in Indigenous socio-economic outcomes, including Indigenous participation and success in education. As the former Aboriginal and torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma (2007) states: ‘Engineering, surveying and associated industries have much to offer Indigenous Australia. Across Australia, and particularly in remote Indigenous communities, there is a need for engineers to design, develop and advise on drinking water, roads, hospitals, schools, radio, television and communication networks and all the fabric of modern society. Encouraging engineering graduates assists in our self determination – giving us opportunities to be the drivers in our own social and economic development’.

The inaugural Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (2005) argued that:
Policy for Indigenous higher education must be underpinned by the goal of the social, cultural and economic development of the whole Indigenous community. A distinguishing feature of Indigenous people’s participation in higher education is that the public good is as important as the private good. In the present times, the participation of Indigenous people in higher education is not only important for the development of the individuals concerned but also important for Indigenous community capacity building. The higher education sector, in preparing educated people for leadership roles, has a vital role to play in raising the health, education and economic outcomes for the Indigenous community overall. This important benefit can be readily overlooked, however it provides a powerful justifi cation for the allocation of adequate resources to educate and train the next generation of Indigenous leaders. Resources devoted to raising the number of Indigenous graduates will be resources spent on essential community development (p. 5).

Educating for Change

Higher education encourages the development of a reflective capacity and a willingness to review and renew prevailing ideas, policies and practices based on a commitment to the common good...[and] contribute to the socialisation of enlightened, responsible and constructively critical citizens. Higher education has an unmatched obligation, which has not been adequately fulfilled, to help lay the foundations of a critical civil society, with a culture of public debate and tolerance which accommodates differences and competing interests. It has much more to do, both within its own institutions and in its influence on the broader community, to strengthen the democratic ethos, the sense of common citizenship and commitment to a common good.
(South African Education White Paper 3, Department of Education Pretoria, 1997 p. 40)

Universities in Australia have been educating professionals for over 100 years. The education provided by Universities has shaped the thinking and practices of generations of professionals who have played a significant role in structuring relationships between Indigenous Australians and the broader society, including advising colonial and contemporary governments, authorities and professional bodies on policy and practice, constructing and legitimating societal values and attitudes, and providing professional services to Indigenous peoples.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) was the first major national Inquiry to document the complexity and severity of the socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians and consistently questioned the standard and appropriateness of the professional services provided to Indigenous Australians. The Royal Commission argued that professionals largely operated within a neo-colonial framework and were generally ignorant of knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultures, worldview, histories and contemporary situations and lacked practical skills and strategies for working effectively in Indigenous contexts.

Many of the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) related to the need for a ‘within culture’ or cultural competence approach to the training of professionals in Ausralia. The Commission also stressed the ‘urgent need for the wider community to get to know Indigenous Australians, to learn about the shared history and to plan an inclusive future that respects and values Indigenous culture and heritage. ‘It is argued that if we are to achieve a social and political reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens there is a clear need for a broad, inclusive and participatory form of citizenship and civic education, one which acknowledges Indigenous forms of learning and empowers Indigenous communities…The implications are profound; continued ignorance and arrogance from the dominant cultures will lead to even greater…social alienation, poverty and divisiveness’ (Nichol, 2008).

Whilst over the past decade there has been an upsurge of interest shown by Australian universities in ensuring the inclusion of some Indigenous content in discipline areas such as education, social work and nursing, this incorporation has been haphazard and incomplete. Consequently, twenty years after the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody tabled its findings and recommendations and the formal process of reconciliation was begun, the high levels of socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians have not improved. Societal attitudes and services provided by professions to Indigenous Australians remain powerful barriers to achieving social justice. Professionals, educated and trained by universities, continue to contribute to the construction and perpetuation of these barriers. Doctors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, police officers, teachers, and other professionals continue to routinely construct and implement policies and practices which have the power to determine health strategies, place children in institutions, send Indigenous Australians to jail and structure the curriculum taught to the future generation of Australian professionals, based upon little or no knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultures, histories or contemporary realities.

This argument is supported by the findings of the 2007 Staff in Australian Schools Survey which found that ‘thirtyone percent of primary teachers who were early in their career said their pre-service training was of no help to assist them in teaching Indigenous students. Increasing Indigenous knowledges in higher education assists teachers to be better prepared which in turn assists Indigenous students in their academic performance’ (Calma, 2008). This is particulary concerning given that ‘since colonial times, teachers have been charged with implementing some of the many policies that have governed the lives of Indigenous people. Teachers through their work are uniquely positioned to effect positive social change, as there is recursive interplay between education and the social context in which it occurs’ (Faith Irving, Pathways, Policy and Practice in Indigenous Education, year unknown).

According to GradStats, the Australian higher education sector graduated approximately 162,000 graduates in 2010. Clearly, as the sector responsible for educating the next generation of professionals across a range of disciplines, universities have a significant role and responsibility in shaping the culture, paradigms and practices of those professions. Universities have a major responsibility to provide the next generation of professionals with knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultures, histories and contemporary contexts and equip graduates with culturally appropriate skills and strategies to prepare them for working effectively with Indigenous clients and/or communities. This education should engage students in a critical inquiry into the nature of their profession – its history, assumptions and characteristics, its role in structuring Australian society,  and its historical and contemporary engagement with Indigenous communities and Indigenous people. These professional characteristics need to be examined and understood if professionals are to develop an understanding of the social and political contexts of Indigenous people’s lives and communities and the roles of the professions in shaping those contexts to become agents of change. Students need to examine:

issues related to the hidden curriculum: "those attitudes, policies, actions, non-actions, behaviors, practices, and objects that lurk beneath the surface of the day-to-day operation of…education" (Jones & Young, 1997, p. 89). All actions or non-actions are predicated on one or more sets of values and beliefs…The values and beliefs that predominate are typically those of the group in power. As Jones and Young (1997) point out, "the hidden curriculum we unknowingly perpetuate represents an ideology, thought, and action that works to both perpetuate power relationships, cultural hegemony, and political relationships and to impede the progress of those without the ability to identify and understand its existence" (National Black Child Development Institute, 1993 cited in Hains et al 2000 p. 14).

According to the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (2008): ‘Addressing access, success and retention problems for Indigenous students [and staff] is a matter of the highest priority. Indigenous Australians suffer high levels of social exclusion. Higher education is one way of allowing them to realise their full potential. To do this, higher education providers must not only address their learning needs but also recognise and act on issues such as the culture of the institution, the cultural competence of all staff – academic and professional – and the nature of the curriculum’ (p. 32).

Indigenous cultural competency needs to be embedded as a key element in the prepapartion of university graduates. As the IHEAC argue, ‘graduates with a better understanding and greater appreciation of Indigenous knowledge would contribute to overcoming the present social challenges facing Australia, including racism’ (2007). Cultural competence training of university staff coupled with the inclusion of Indigenous content into University programs offered has the power to change the nature of Australian society and the quality of service provision provided to Indigenous Australians. The systematic and systemic inclusion of Indigenous Studies provides the University sector with the opportunity to define itself as a significant agent for social change and ethical practice in contemporary Australian society and a global leader in the training of professionals.

In the words of Tom Calma (2007): ‘we need to respect and promote Indigenous knowledges and perspectives. They have much to offer all Australians. Tertiary education institutions exercise cultural leadership when they offer courses that are enriched by Indigenous knowledges and perspectives. This is reconciliation in action’.

Leading Change

Many reports, including the AUQA Report (2006) and the 2006 report of the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council entitled ‘Partnerships, Pathways and Policies: Improving Indigenous Education Outcomes’, argued that “certain pre-conditions are necessary before long-term sustainable change is made and an improvement in the participation in higher education and outcomes for Indigenous people is achieved” (IHEAC, 2006 p. 6).

One of the most fundamental of the ‘pre-conditions’ necessary for achieving long-term sustainable change in Indigenous educational and employment outcomes is the widening of Indigenous involvement in the life and governance of the University. This requires commitment to a whole of institution approach, including increasing the University’s engagement with Indigenous communities, Indigenisation of the curriculum, financial assistance and pro-active provision of Indigenous student services, and the inclusion of Indigenous culture and knowledge as a visual and valued part of University life and decision-making. For:

An integrated policy approach is needed to advance Indigenous higher education, for the issues are systematic…Equal attention must be given to, among other things, the recruitment and support of Indigenous students, the recruitment, support and promotion of Indigenous staff, and the building and strengthening of Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Research. Urgent action is needed in all these areas if a positive cycle of participation in higher education, which breeds further participation in higher education, is to be established  (Improving Indigenous Outcomes and Enhancing Indigenous Culture and Knowledge in Australian Higher Education, Report of the Inaugural Indigenous Higher Education Conference, 2005).

Implementing the changes required is reliant upon both an individual process and an organizational/systems process. Research has consistently demonstrated that efforts to make change must address both the "top" and the "bottom" simultaneously and in a consistent, integrated fashion (Fullan, 1993; Guskey, 1986; Sparks, 1995; Winton, 1990). This suggests that strategies for enhancing individual competence must take place in concert with efforts to modify institutions and programs. This kind of commitment to promoting individual and institutional change requires strong leadership (Hains et al 2000 p. 15).

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