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Convoluted pathways from VET to university deter Indigenous students

Educational outcomes for Australian Indigenous students would be improved by refining Vocational Education and Training (VET) to higher education pathways and transitions, according to a new report.

The research, led by Associate Professor James Smith from Charles Darwin University, and funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), indicated that dual-sector universities were well positioned to take the lead in this area by harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges faced by Indigenous students.

“Indigenous students’ higher education participation and completion rates are significantly lower than those of their non-Indigenous counterparts. More Indigenous students enrol in VET which could provide a feasible pathway into tertiary education, although the current processes for doing so are often convoluted,” Dr Smith said.

“Unfortunately, only 4.9 per cent of Indigenous students currently make the transition from VET to higher education; this project sought to identify practical strategies to enhance systems, policies and practices to better facilitate this educational pathway.”

Responding to a current research gap, this project moved beyond the investigation of enabling programs, towards a deeper examination of additional practice-based (and evidence-informed) strategies being developed by dual-sector universities in Australia.

A scoping literature review, focus groups, and a survey of staff and Indigenous students informed practical strategies for enhancing VET to higher education transitions, including: targeted outreach and engagement work; support of a clear vision where pathway options are concerned; enhanced and well-aligned policies and practice; and additional applied research into the remaining gaps.

“The need to facilitate students’ post-school transitions through institutional responsiveness and policy reflexivity through transformative education is required at national and sub-national levels,” Dr Smith said.

“There is an urgent need for greater community engagement and partnerships, as well as enabling programs that develop academic preparedness and the strengthening of self-efficacy in students.”

The findings of the report emphasise the need for a holistic approach in the refinement of pathways to higher education for Indigenous students, and inform recommendations to improve educational trajectories, according to NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad.

“Transitioning from VET is a viable opportunity for Australian Indigenous students to access tertiary education; this report provides a body of evidence to guide dual-sector universities in facilitating that transition more effectively,” Professor Trinidad said.

The report, Identifying strategies for promoting VET to higher education transitions for Indigenous learners, is available here on the NCSEHE website.


Media contact:

Nina-Marie Thomas
Media and Communications Officer
National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education
Tel | +61 8 9266 3721
Email |

Posted 15 September 2017 Posted in