Wingara Mura: an update from Professor Shane Houston

2 August 2013

The visit of Professor Sir Mason Durie as our second Wingara Mura Visiting Thinker is an opportunity for us all to reflect and engage more deeply with our efforts to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, research, participation and engagement. We should be proud of what we've achieved in the 12 months since we launched our integrated strategy.

  • Student recruitment: Our efforts to attract more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through new pathways are working. In 2012 the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students listing Sydney as a first preference rose by 15 percent, and the number of offers we made increased by 50 percent. We welcomed 152 commencing students to our University: an increase of 35 percent from 2011.
  • Student support: The Koori Centre remains as a culturally safe space on campus. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continue to have access to existing Koori Centre common room, library and computer facilities, but we're progressively improving these spaces for students and some major refurbishments are under way. We've done lots of other work in the student support space - for example by increasing the number of support officers we employ.
  • Staff recruitment: We have created new opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the University, including in senior academic and other decision-making and decision-influencing roles. Five people have joined us under our new Merit Appointment Scheme and we currently employ more than 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff across the University. New colleagues include a senior academic in public health, and we have also appointed several people to adjunct academic roles, including in the faculties of Health Sciences and Architecture, Design and Planning, while they continue to pursue their professional career externally.
  • Increasing research engagement: We've brought renewed focus to how our research can make a major difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, engagement and lives, most recently at a showcase last month in Canberra attended by senior policy and program directors from the Australian Government. Colleagues from across the University showcased their work, including research into renal disease in Aboriginal children, the distinct policy needs of urban Aboriginal people, and improving education, health and safety in social housing. Participants have been already asked to bring more of their work and insights to some important areas of public policy.
  • Government support: Our many efforts have attracted external recognition. As you may have seen in June, the federal government announced $5.7 million in fundingto support our Breadwinners initiative to provide financial support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who want a university education but may be unable to afford to take the time away from their jobs to study.

So, there is a lot happening and I encourage you to get involved. My portfolio is working with all faculties and professional services units to deliver improved contributions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outcomes through a series of local implementation plans. These plans map out a concerted effort in many areas including cultural competence, student recruitment and retention and strengthened community engagement. These have really come to life because of your input and ideas: find out about local initiatives in your area so you can contribute to our planning for 2014 and beyond.

Momentum is building as we strive to make Sydney a genuinely and distinctively Australian university, a university where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and narratives are part of who we are. Let's make sure these efforts count.