Project lead: Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE)
Project funding: $872,272 Round 1 2012
This project involved 39 universities. Its aim was to build commitment and capacity in Australia’s teacher education institutions to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers from 2013 to 2020, by improving retention, success and graduation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) was the project’s lead organisation and produced a Project Report in December 2012. This report provides a useful overview of many research findings about reasons for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students not completing university and how to address them including: support with enrolment; smooth transition into university; support for students’ cultural, social, academic and financial needs; flexibility in course progression; professional development and awareness training for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff; awareness of ‘walking points’ when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are most likely to leave: in their first year of study; around exams and assessments; after professional experience.
Despite this extensive research, little has changed regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ experience at university and success in completing their studies. The project’s data scan provided the alarming statistic that only about one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students who commence will complete.
The project got deans of education and heads of Indigenous Higher Education Centres (IHECs) together, often for the first time. A one day conference of Deans of Education and heads of IHECs led to development of institutional action plans to target retention and graduation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The Report’s individual stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students provided many insights. Their journeys were not smooth, with some exiting at varying stages and many taking a long time to complete due to competing needs related to family and community.
In a number of cases the university contacted the students and encouraged them to return under revised approaches which recognised and accommodated their needs. This demonstrates the need for university staff to make it their regular business to engage in genuine contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The stories indicate that by and large, universities are not friendly places for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. They identify as difficulties racism, personal circumstances (money, family), the nature of universities and their processes, access to technology and isolation. When universities acknowledge these issues, offer help and take a flexible approach, students get through their studies much more easily. The statistics told a story about enrolments and attrition.
The School of Education and the Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin University, undertook an evaluation of the project and Queensland University of Technology’s Report. The Evaluation Report addressed the ACDE project and its sustainability as it moves into 2013-2015 phases, in particular, partnerships between schools of education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs staff.
The evaluation made the following recommendations for the ACDE:
- involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all stages of the project
- communicate all information to all players and invite feedback
- improve data gathering through greater consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and communit
- strengthen partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs staff
- research international perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student retention and graduation which are transferrable to the Australian context and ensure they inform action plans
- nurture and strengthen relationships with community Elders to support students
- consult with Indigenous Education Consultative Bodies (IECBs) at national and state levels
- define institutional racism as a factor impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ participation and success
- include MATSITI goals in the selection criteria for deans of education.
Evaluation Report of the Partnership Program between Queensland University of Technology (QUT), ACDE and MATSITI, School of Education and the Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin University (December 2012)
MATSITI evaluation conclusions
The information in the Project Report and the Evaluation Report contain a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data to form the basis of short, medium and long term action plans and make a conscientious commitment to revise university governance structures through consultation with and accountability to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The stand out achievement of the project is that it has engaged the deans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs staff in discussions about the issues impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. These dialogues appear to have been a genuine eye opener for many of the deans, who have demonstrated their commitment by the achievements under the Phase 2 project, Engagement and Success.
Deans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs staff need to maintain and strengthen the networks which have formed as a result of participating in the project. Such networks will be a source of support for the challenges presented by the need to embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and wider consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher education students.
A refocussing of universities’ activities towards students as clients will create progress. If deans of education and other academic staff made it their core business to excel in producing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers who are strong in their identities and cultures and who can deliver a first class education to school students, they would be meeting the aims of MATSITI.
Project contact: Professor Wendy Patton, Executive Dean, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, or
Project Manager: Australian Council of Deans of Education
Teacher education research and action plans (project completion announcement, Dec 2012) »