2020 NCSEHE Equity Fellow Andrea Simpson
Articulating pathways to higher degree allied health coursework programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Andrea Simpson, La Trobe University
The quality of educational choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, together with university success and retention rates, are important policy concerns. This fellowship will integrate data from the Department of Education as well as the perspectives of students and academic staff to focus on access into career pathways within allied health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The burden of disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is 2.3 times that of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Building Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce capacity in the allied health professions is a vital part of reducing the health and equity burden faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Compared with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are 1.5 times more likely to work in the health and social assistance sector. However, these largely represent VET sector qualifications, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, who number just over 1,300 nationally. Remuneration for those holding health VET qualifications are amongst the lowest paid in both government and non-government organisations with little of the status or professional development opportunities awarded to their university-qualified allied health counterparts.
Depending on the profession, entry into allied health study can be competitive and based on academic achievement – factors known to limit student equity. Many universities are also choosing to offer specialisation into allied health only at postgraduate level which further restricts equitable access to these courses. Although in theory alternative entry pathways would seem to be a viable solution, particularly for those with industry experience, these are viewed as complex, time-consuming and confusing for both the applicant and institution. As a result, few resources have been invested into this space.
This project aims to identify strategies which can act to strengthen the pipeline between VET sector health qualifications and higher degree allied health coursework programs. National data from the Department of Education on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in select allied health disciplines will be examined. In addition, semi-structured interviews with current students, higher education course coordinators, VET representatives, as well as professional accrediting body representatives will be undertaken to determine awareness of student equity issues, cultural inclusiveness of curriculum, entry requirement policies, and barriers to change.
The research will adopt a national perspective in order to provide recommendations which can be applied more generally to allied health education programs across Australia.
What I hope to draw from the Fellowship
This project focuses on a relatively under-researched area of student equity research, that of access to specific vocational professions. As a non-Indigenous researcher, I will be guided by my collaborators in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Health and Educational bodies to ensure the research is of relevance and undertaken with cultural humility.
Together with the Department of Education, analysis of national data on the participation of Indigenous students in allied health study will draw attention to increasing access to the vocational professions as well as assist in developing proposed institutional and national targets. Thus, the findings can continue to be used and developed upon into the future.
For myself, collaboration with the Department of Education will inform evidence-based methods to increase national access to Audiology and Speech Pathology programs for Indigenous students. As a senior member of the allied health school, I can promote findings to other allied health disciplines within my institution.
I am a member of the Council of Deans, a national Audiology accreditation advisory body, and can therefore champion change in promoting and implementing findings nationally at a discipline level. The inclusion of cross-disciplinary course coordinators in the data collection phase of the project will ensure that findings can be promoted nationally across other allied health disciplines and institutions.
About myself and my background
This project brings together several of my interests, particularly the interplay between education and health outcomes.
I am currently employed as the Discipline Lead for the Audiology program within the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University. As well as my Ph.D., I also hold a Master’s degree in Social Policy. I’ve worked as a clinician in Indigenous communities in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory, a project officer in higher education student equity and services, an academic, and more recently course coordinator and team leader.
I believe that policy is powerful, particularly in the way it plays out on the ground. As a higher education ‘gatekeeper’, I’ve seen how small changes to admission structures can have a big impact on which students are allowed ‘in’ and which remain ‘out’. This experience has created in me a sense of responsibility in working towards greater diversity of representation in the allied health professions, particularly in areas where Indigenous ear health is a major concern.
The Fellowship allows me the opportunity to build on my partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Health and Educational bodies to ensure it is meaningful for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. Building these relationships will ensure my practice is culturally safe and appropriate given the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia.