Success has many definitions when it comes to access education for Indigenous students
A report prepared by researchers at CQUniversity Australia (CQU) and funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University, has found access and bridging programs are vital when it comes to raising education aspirations among Indigenous students.
Bridging, enabling or access education programs are names given for formal programs of study offered by tertiary institutions. They teach learners study skills that will help them transition into formal study, be that either vocational (VET) or higher education.
The research, led by CQU’s Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, found that these programs have a vital role to play in both increasing VET and higher education participation among Indigenous students and, importantly, in helping these students to recognise their sense of place, build confidence and resilience, and strengthen their cultural identity.
“Our research found that while access education is only a small slice of the lifelong education journey, it is a critically important one for many Indigenous peoples.
As a part of our study, we developed case studies that provide rich documentation of the lived experiences of students who had participated in such programs, of staff who taught the programs, as well as those of community stakeholders.
Among the key themes that emerged, was the importance of including Indigenous culture in course content. Our participants articulated that a lack of cultural understanding within access education programs appeared to constrain their personal learning journeys,” said Professor Fredericks.
Professor Fredericks, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at CQU, emphasised that the impact of access education should not be underestimated on a broader scale.
“The idea of success ultimately needs to be recognised as being a multi-layered concept that includes issues of participation (for the institution) and reaffirming personal identity and confidence (for the learner).
Success needs to be viewed in terms of the broader community and the impact that increased participation in education will have on those connected to a student,” said Professor Fredericks.
Professor Sue Trinidad, Director of the NCSEHE, echoed Professor Fredericks’ sentiments.
“Further education is a key component in addressing social inequality and building prosperous, productive communities.
Currently, the participation rate of Indigenous people in higher education settings remains below that of the broader Australian population, resulting in social and economic disadvantage. Australia’s universities work hard to support Indigenous students, however there is more to be learned and implemented to best meet their needs.”
A recommendation made by the CQU research team focused on the creation of opportunities to discuss the definition of ‘success’ in Indigenous education, as the term can have many different meanings: improved confidence, a stronger sense of identity, gaining employment, improved engagement with the broader community, expanded learning capacity, course completion, entry into a vocational or higher education program, and of course completion of a vocational or higher education program.
The study also explored how Indigenous learning journeys can both respect and grow cultural identity while simultaneously developing study skills.