Sydney launches strategy to boost Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation

14 June 2012

The University of Sydney has unveiled a major strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education, research and engagement.

'Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu'- meaning "thinking path to make tomorrow" - is a core part of the University's overall Strategic Plan 2011-15, one that establishes a vision for the University of Sydney as a uniquely Australian institution.

The strategy was launched at the University by Senator the Hon. Chris Evans, Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. More than 100 invited guests were welcomed by the University's Chancellor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, following a performance by the Doonooch Dance Company and a Welcome to Country Speech by Gadigal elder Uncle Charles 'Chika' Madden.

Senator Evans said the University was leading the way in setting ambitious targets for reform that would benefit students, staff and researchers and have wide implications.

"We believe that higher education, and education more generally, is transformational in people's lives," the minister told the audience. "It gives them the opportunity to maximise their capabilities," he said, adding this was important not just for social equity, but for Australia's economic potential.

"If we don't tap the potential of large sections of our population, we're underselling not only them and their capability, we're underselling the nation."

The Wingara Mura strategy expands Aboriginal education, research and engagement to become part of the core activity of the University. It outlines a vision for a University "that values and understands the complex range of Australian relationships, histories, cultures and aspirations and through education, research and engagement weaves them respectfully into a richer, complex but coherent Australian narrative and identity".

It also sets a series of University-wide targets in the areas of students, staff, and research that will help to change what the University does and achieves.

"This is only going to work if it is a whole-of-University commitment," said Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence.

(L-R) Dr Michael Spence, Professor Shane Houston and the Hon. Chris Evans.
(L-R) Dr Michael Spence, Professor Shane Houston and the Hon. Chris Evans.

The Vice-Chancellor added that much of the thinking behind the development of the strategy, which followed a major review of Indigenous Education commissioned by the University in 2008, had considered what it would mean to be an Australian university - in the sense of understanding Australia as a partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians, and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

"I wanted to work at a university that could help educate all Australians for that future," he said. "This is the moment that we celebrate together that we are launching something new in the life of this remarkable institution."

Development of the strategy has been led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston, who joined the University in April 2011.

"The University of Sydney has a proud history - the first to admit students on merit, the first to admit women to all areas of study on an equal basis with men, and the first university to award a degree to an Aboriginal student. But we have to take the next steps," Professor Houston said, speaking ahead of the launch.

"The University's approach is not built on a discourse of disadvantage, it does not start by describing Aboriginal peoples as a collection of problems or deficits, but rather it recognises rights, builds capability and creates opportunity," he said.

Targets in the strategy include accomplishing the following by 2015:

  • doubling the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying at Sydney from 206 undergraduates (as at March 2012)
  • employing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic staff complement of 75 (currently 15) and a general staff complement of 97 (currently 23)
  • increasing the number of staff and students engaged in research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues by at least 40 percent
  • lifting funding from all sources for research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander areas by at least 25 percent
  • ensuring that all new and existing staff take part in cross-cultural training.

Among the many initiatives in the new strategy are several aimed at creating opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are currently in work or involved in sport to access tertiary study.

The Breadwinners Project aims to develop partnerships with government, community and industry to create opportunities for working Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enter undergraduate and postgraduate study, and a separate program will be developed with sporting teams in NSW to give Indigenous sportsmen the opportunity to access tertiary study.

The complete version of the University's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Integrated Strategy is available online at

The Doonooch Dance Company performed at the launch.
The Doonooch Dance Company performed at the launch.

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