Engagement at the Interface: Indigenous Pathways and Transitions into Higher Education
Written by Dr Tim Pitman, NCSEHE Research Fellow
The Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) national forum on Indigenous pathways and transitions into higher education (#HEPP15) was an intensive two days. As an academic, the conference put me just where I need to be: far enough out of my comfort zone to challenge me and expose me to new ideas but close enough to my expertise that I can incorporate these new ideas and contribute to the conversation. As a researcher of higher education policy, specifically, it is critical that my work is informed by the coal-face experiences of those working with Indigenous students and the students themselves, and I thank Charles Darwin University and the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Education (ACIKE) for the opportunity to attend.
Although the workshops and presentations were diverse, two themes clearly emerged. The first is the need for universities to commit more fully to horizontal rather than vertical Indigenous student support. Put simply, that means taking the responsibility of improving Indigenous student performance out of the Indigenous centres and institutes, and integrating it throughout the entire university. The second is the need for us to focus on progression and completion of Indigenous students with the same passion we have given to providing them with access and participation.
The issues of progression and completion are chords that strike deeply with me, as the research I presented at the Conference highlighted this reality. Our 2014 National Priorities Pool-funded project on enabling programs clearly identified that Indigenous-specific enabling programs are excellent at improving students’ retention rates, but less so in developing the requisite academic skills required to progress and complete. The answer, I believe, is to strengthen the link between the enabling and undergraduate programs and ensure that the student is continued to be supported, seamlessly, once they have completed the enabling program. And this is where horizontal integration comes in.
Improving Indigenous higher education outcomes is not always linear process. Many students will engage, disengage and then re-engage with tertiary studies as they balance their studies with personal, community and work responsibilities. #HEPP15 was about raising awareness around how we can continue to support these students throughout these processes and it was uplifting to see all the hard work being done – and the successes being realised – across the sector.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend the conference, the NCSEHE has put together a timeline of Tweets, providing a glimpse of the breadth and depth of the conversations had during the Conference. We hope you find them interesting.