NPP Projects

Unlocking Capacity and Empowering Choices: Indigenous Students’ Aspirations for Higher Education

Lead University: University of Newcastle

Lead Researcher: Jenny Gore

Research Team: Jenny Gore, Jess Harris, Max Smith, Maree Gruppetta, Adam Lloyd and Kath Holmes

Year Funded: 2015

Funding Received: $134,012

DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.6988838.v1



This project explored the educational intentions and occupational interests of Indigenous school students from Years 3-12 as well as their understanding of the path from school to higher education. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of data from an Aspirations Longitudinal Study, focus groups and interviews, indicated major enablers and barriers to higher education achievement that were identified by Indigenous students, their parents and teachers.

Project Outline

  • The project had three main objectives:
    • explore the educational intentions and occupational interests of Indigenous school students from Years 3–12
    • explore the enablers and barriers to achieving aspirations recognised by Indigenous students, their parents and their teachers
    • explore the understanding Indigenous students convey about the path from school to higher education.
  • The project involved the analysis of the educational and career aspirations of Indigenous students, and reasons for those aspirations, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative data of an Aspirations Longitudinal Study involving more than 10,000 school students (342 of whom were Indigenous) and focus groups involving 553 of these students (35 of whom were Indigenous).
  • Additional interviews were conducted with 31 Indigenous students, 14 of their parents and 17 of their teachers.
  • Regression analyses and qualitative analyses generated a rich picture of major barriers and enablers to higher education participation for Indigenous students that can inform outreach and other strategic activities involving schools that are undertaken by universities.

Key Findings

  • Gore, J., Patfield, S., Holmes, K., Smith, M., Lloyd, A., Gruppetta, M., Weaver, N., & Fray, L. (2017). When higher education is possible but not desirable: Widening participation and the aspirations of Australian Indigenous school students. Australian Journal of Education. 61, 164-183. doi:10.1177/0004944117710841
    • Indigenous and non-Indigenous students held similar occupational aspirations, although Indigenous students were much less likely to aspire to attend university. High-achieving Indigenous students were significantly less likely to aspire to university than their high-achieving non-Indigenous peers.
    • The authors argued that both the possibility and desirability of higher education must be addressed if the widening participation agenda is to meet equity targets for Indigenous students.
  • Gore, J., Patfield, S., Holmes, K., Gruppetta, M., Lloyd, A., Smith, M., Fray, L., & Heath, T. (2017). The participation of Australian Indigenous students in higher education: A scoping review of empirical research, 2000–2016. Australian Educational Researcher. 44, 323-355. doi:10.1007/s13384-017-0236-9
    • Despite a recent increase in research on this topic, relatively little attention has been paid to Indigenous students’ aspirations while they are at school.
    • The authors argued that future research should take account of the following matters: school students’ aspirations for higher education, including primary school students; the similitude of barriers and enablers across the student life cycle; differences within Indigenous community and among Indigenous students; and insights emerging from Indigenous methodologies and scholarship.
  • Gore, J. (2017) Why many high-achieving Indigenous students are shunning university. The Conversation. Retrieved from
    • An overview of the researchers’ Australian Journal of Education paper, speculating on why high-achieving Indigenous students might be reluctant to choose university.
  • Two additional journal articles are in preparation, tentatively titled:
    • Connecting the dots: The role of teachers in supporting the educational and occupational aspirations of Indigenous students.
    • “I’ve got a lot of dreams. Just getting there, that’s the hard part”: Higher education and the aspirations of Indigenous school students
  • Preliminary findings were also shared in sessions at two conferences:
    • The Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Conference, December 2016.
    • American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference, April 2017.
  • Key findings from this project will also be used in a current project developing professional learning resources for teachers across Australia. The resources are designed to assist teachers in understanding and supporting their students’ aspirations.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 8 June 2018