Getting better all the time
By Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)
The Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu strategy makes the promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, engagement, education and research a core Sydney objective. Its aim is to make the University a place where Aboriginal people are able to pursue academic interests, careers and contributions that are of intrinsic personal and academic pride, craft and purpose.
About 48 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with an ATAR greater than 80 (and who applied through UAC in 2013) listed the University of Sydney as their first preference. In 2014 we have 183 commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, including 101 undergraduate and 82 postgraduate students, and 19 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD students.
THE SUMMER PROGRAM
This initiative in January brought together 13 faculties in a single program that gave more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students nationally a taste of the University’s educational opportunities and potential: three days for Years 9-10 and five days for Years 11-12. The program left a strong imprint on the students: 98 percent of participants felt more motivated to achieve at school and 98 percent saw university as a genuine option for them.
PREPARING FOR THE HSC
We have established a program to encourage the most promising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to commit themselves to a great HSC result and to look to Sydney as the natural fit for their ambitions. About 40 will visit the University in 2014 to participate in workshops that provide talented Year 12 students with intensive support as they prepare for their HSC. Hundreds of others will receive online support through our Get Prepared initiative.
The University has established a program that will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who want to study but have had to let go of their dream of a university degree because their families rely on their salary. Breadwinners offers scholarships to these students in their last two years of study. The first breadwinners scholarships will be awarded this year.
STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES
There has been an increase of more than 40 percent in the student uptake of tutorial support and a 160 percent increase in contacts with students following the expansion of Aboriginal student support service staff from two to seven, aided by the creation of an academic adviser network.
Two staff have been appointed, with more recruitments to come, for the National Centre for Cultural Competence (NCCC), the first academic unit of its kind in the country. Partnerships are currently being negotiated with Georgetown University in the United States and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. The NCCC, which has received more than $5.6 million from the federal government, will work across learning and teaching, student outcomes and research and scholarship.
The Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning engaged final-year Master of Architecture students in an innovative studio to design the NCCC building, an exercise about how they incorporate Aboriginal cultural perspectives in the functional design and aesthetic. An Aboriginal architect shared teaching responsibility during development of the studio. An additional studio called Finding Country was held for second-year students, a design exercise that focused on building understanding of and engagement with traditional land management practices and values. Finding Country was led by a Torres Strait Islander architect.
VISITING THINKER PROGRAM
Eminent academics from the US and New Zealand were among a panel of experts who met last year to create the Wingara Mura Visiting Thinker program, which will kick off later this year with the appointment of two indigenous figures to short-term residencies.
MERIT APPOINTMENT SCHEME
The implementation of this scheme has led to the advertising of 19 positions and the filling of 13 of them, lifting the number of Aboriginal people employed at the University.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are now enrolled in every faculty across the University.