AIME and the University of Wollongong
The AIME program addresses educational inequity through a mentoring program designed to improve high school completion rates of Indigenous students
The collaborative research partnership between the University of Wollongong and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), an Indigenous community organisation, has grown from internal university funding to national funding. This mutually beneficial partnership has resulted in: outputs to AIME for use in their program; funded educational opportunities for Indigenous students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and the design of statistical tools for the collection of quantitative data on the program.
- University of Wollongong (UOW)
- Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), Redfern, NSW
- Dr Gawaian Bodkin Andrews, Macquarie University.
While young Indigenous people are reported as increasingly interested in attending university, access and retention rates fall far below the levels required for equitable representation. The AIME program addresses this educational inequity through a mentoring program designed to improve high school completion rates of Indigenous students. While statistics show that AIME has achieved successes in this field, there has been little on-going empirical data gathered on this model. The partnership between UOW and AIME was designed to analyse and evaluate progress against key performance indicators and report on the viability of an expansion. The UOW–AIME research partnership has received half a million dollars in evaluation and research funding, including the award of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2014–16).
This partnership has spanned four years and its longitudinal nature has forged a productive relationship between the organisations. Previously, UOW had completed an evaluation of the AIME Outreach approach to mentoring, with the work enabling identification of the impacts of the Outreach program (whole day, across-the-year sessions) as compared to the Core program (shorter weekly sessions). The research indicated the potentially greater reach of the Outreach program, which enables more Indigenous high school students to access AIME mentoring. Currently, partner research with AIME is focused on three key areas:
- how AIME engages mentees and how this connects with educational futures
- how mentoring works in the AIME program
- investigating the impact on mentors.
The research partnership is always characterised by flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of AIME. To this end, UOW has employed both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The partnership team has strived to provide mutual benefit for all stakeholders, and has engaged in capacity building in the form of creating new survey instruments, development of mentor digital stories, and provided advice and support to other AIME research activities outside the remit of this specific project.
Ongoing outcomes have included the dissemination of key data and evidence that has largely supported the ongoing benefits of the AIME model. The next stage of research will seek to qualify the ways in which AIME successfully engages with Indigenous young people and how this approach can be harnessed and reproduced on a national basis. Multiple site visits have been conducted across Australia in order to build relationships and develop deeper understanding of how the program connects with young people. To date, AIME programs have been observed at fourteen locations, and at the completion of fieldwork the research team will have spoken with over 100 young Indigenous Australians.
The research team has also adapted approaches to data analysis, engaging in group analysis so that a range of perspectives and epistemologies can be applied to the data collected.
The reflective nature of this partnership has enabled strong bonds to be developed between the organisations and this has led to joint publications and the development of an UOW–AIME PhD scholarship.
Research activities are aligned with protocols for research with Indigenous Australians, as described by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. As such, the partners work together to collaboratively discuss, plan and develop activities. There is ongoing feedback between the partners, incorporating changes in line with discussions. Maintaining a respectful relationship between UOW and AIME, inclusive of staff both at the central administrative level and ‘on the ground’, is the cornerstone of our practice.
The partnership is characterised by trust and reciprocity, characteristics that can only emerge through authentic engagement with a community organisation. Each research team member has evidenced their individual commitment to the AIME program and its goals through various means, including participation in AIME fundraising events, committee membership, and provision of advice and input on other activities. Output from the partnership is not owned by any of the parties and as such has been drawn upon in additional different and significant ways to that initially envisaged.
Importantly, the research team works closely with AIME staff ‘on the ground’ to develop relationships and build effective communication. The respectful and ongoing nature of relationship building has enabled the collection of deep and descriptive data; this we feel is the key element to the success of this partnership.
“The research partnership works so well… The expertise they have passed on to us has helped not only the external research they are involved with, but also our internal research processes.” – research director, AIME.
Current partnership activities are funded until 2017. As AIME grows and evolves, we envisage this relationship will continue. To understand the impact of this organisation on the lives of young Indigenous people, careful and ongoing analysis is required. An assessment of this kind can only come with time, so the team is already planning future research partnerships. We regard this partnership as a key means to foreground the work and successes of AIME, and bring these to public, political and scholarly attention. Our approach will continue to be two-fold, involving the provision of rigorous data (quantitative and qualitative) and scholarly publications. Through the provision of both empirically-based research and scholarly literature, we hope that the particular approach that AIME has adopted is both replicated in other equity environments and recognised nationally as a best practice model.
This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.