Building a stronger evidence base to support effective outreach strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: Increasing impact and university participation
NCSEHE Equity Fellowship final report
Dr Katelyn Barney, The University of Queensland
This Equity Fellowship has focused on outreach programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 1students and examines “what works” and what could be improved in these programs. Most universities are running outreach initiatives for Indigenous high school students. Many of these programs involve week-long, intensive camp experiences that bring school students onto university campuses for information sessions, workshops and events that attempt to demystify university culture and cultivate a sense of belonging to build and sustain student engagement. The theoretical case for these initiatives is strong, as much data exists about the barriers Indigenous students face in entering university. However, before this Fellowship occurred, the research and evidence base for these equity programs remained largely underdeveloped and limited (Bennett et al., 2015; Gore et al., 2017b).
The Fellowship involved a mixed-methods approach (combining qualitative and quantitative methods) to identify “what works” in outreach programs for Indigenous students and strategies to strengthen and improve outreach programs specifically for Indigenous students. Through collaboration with an expert Indigenous advisory group and staff at universities, the Fellowship documented and mapped the range of outreach programs universities are running for Indigenous students and then evaluated two outreach camp programs specifically for Indigenous students at Australian universities. Working closely with staff at selected universities, qualitative data was collected from Indigenous tertiary students who had previously attended a high school involved in outreach activities before their transition to university. The project also involved interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff who run outreach programs for Indigenous students and with caregivers/parents of Indigenous students who participated in outreach programs to explore their perspectives on the impact of outreach activities on their child. Quantitative data obtained through a nationally circulated survey of Indigenous university students who participated in an outreach program while at school was also analysed.
Key findings from the Fellowship were:
- The peer-to-peer connections Indigenous students form are a key success factor of outreach camps.
- Camps are part of a suite of outreach activities that many Indigenous students undertake while at school. Therefore, causality between outreach activity and transition to university is difficult to prove.
- Camps play an important role in demystifying university and provide “a taste” of university life for Indigenous students.
- Most Indigenous students participated in outreach camps during year 10, 11 or 12 and they were already considering transitioning to university.
- More cultural aspects and more Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum are needed in some camps.
- Post-camp engagement with Indigenous students is particularly important and needs to be strengthened in some camps.
- More practical resources are needed for staff to assist them to evaluate their programs.
An output of the Fellowship was an online panel discussion with two Indigenous experts, Professor Maria Raciti and Professor Gawaian Bodkin-Andrews, who provided practical tips and advice to outreach practitioners on how to evaluate their programs. The project findings have also established strategies that can be adopted by all universities across Australia to strengthen and improve outreach equity initiatives for Indigenous students. The Fellowship is also developing resources for outreach staff to assist them in evaluating their programs targeting Indigenous students.
The eight key recommendations derived from this Fellowship are outlined below according to each of the targeted audiences:
Key stakeholder recommendations
- University leadership needs to ensure more training opportunities for outreach staff to provide them with the necessary skills to be able to evaluate their programs.
- University outreach staff should continue to engage post-camp with Indigenous students who participate in outreach activities so that they are supported beyond undertaking the camp, through the whole-of-student-life cycle, from school, into university and beyond. Follow up should be offered in a diversity of media (phone, online, face-to-face).
- University leadership and outreach staff should work together to ensure clear, agreed-upon “measures for success” in relation to outreach programs. These should take into consideration a range of factors, not just transition into university, but also the more subtle benefits of outreach programs; for example, the connections students made with their peers, changes in their aspirations and their expectations about university.
- University outreach staff should work collaboratively with Indigenous centres and Indigenous academic staff within universities to ensure Indigenous perspectives are strongly embedded in the “hands-on” activities on outreach camps.
- University outreach staff should further develop stage- and age-appropriate outreach programs for Indigenous students in primary school and early years of high school as there is growing recognition that the current major investment in outreach activities in the later secondary years may begin too late.
- Universities should ensure there is Indigenous leadership of outreach programs for Indigenous students.
Australian Government recommendations
- The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) could test the feasibility of including evaluation of Indigenous outreach programs as a specific part of the current investment in the Student Equity in Higher Education Evaluation Framework and the Widening Participation Longitudinal Study (WPLS).
- The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) should build on the work of the Widening Participation Longitudinal Study (WPLS) so that data on the engagement of Indigenous students in outreach activities is included and linked to administrative data on the transition of Indigenous students into university.
1While acknowledging the diversity among and between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in this report the term “Indigenous” is used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Video resources on aspects of evaluation for university outreach practitioners working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- ‘Indigenous Success: Doing it, Thinking it, Being it’ podcast series
- Panel discussion: Tips for outreach staff on how to evaluate outreach programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- NCSEHE Student Equity Snapshots Forum — Dr Katelyn Barney, What works? Success factors of outreach camps for Indigenous students
Equity Fellowship Snapshot — Building a stronger evidence base to support effective outreach strategies for Indigenous students
This research was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.