Strategy Ten (August 2012 update)

Promote indigenous participation, engagement, education and research

The University has a strong commitment to advancing Indigenous education and research and ensuring that it is well supported. Our aim, as a contemporary Australian institution, is to ensure that Indigenous issues and knowledge are core elements of our decision-making, teaching, research and community engagement activities.

In April 2011, the University appointed Professor Shane Houston as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) to spearhead our efforts to advance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, engagement, education and research. This was one of several initiatives where the final report of the 2011 audit by the Australian Universities Quality Agency commended the University for its strategic embrace of, and broad engagement with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters.

10(a) Develop and implement clear strategies in response to the recommendations of the Review of Indigenous Education.

We launched an ‘integrated strategy’ in June 2012 that addresses recommendations of the 2009 Review of Indigenous Education and takes a ‘whole-of-University’ approach to make the promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, engagement, education and research part of our core objective. The Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu strategy is built around a series of initiatives, which each have short descriptions, a specific focus area and relate to one or more of the following themes: successful students; our people; research and knowledge systems; society and leadership; gender; infrastructure; and community engagement. It therefore plays an important role in our progress right across the strategic plan. Nevertheless, the publication of Wingara Mura is not a starting point; we have already made significant progress towards strategy 10.

10(b) Foster stronger relationships based on mutual respect with local, regional and national Indigenous communities.

In October 2011, we welcomed community elders to a special ceremony to mark the 250th repatriation to community and country of Aboriginal ancestral remains (the largest such repatriation ever undertaken by a university museum). In May 2012, we held our largest-ever program of public events for Reconciliation Week, with the Seymour Centre playing an integral role through hosting a range of high-profile events, and in June 2012 we signed a memorandum of understanding with South Sydney Football Club and Souths Cares to work together to encourage and support young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to focus on education, training and employment, with the ultimate aim of encouraging their greater engagement in higher education. We are currently negotiating agreements around broader engagement with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. We have also just appointed an Aboriginal woman to the position of Manager, Trust and Engagement.

10(c) Ensure Indigenous perspectives are taken into account in our planning and decision-making processes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives are now built into our decision-making processes from the most senior levels, through agreement with Senate about protocols for Indigenous representation on Senate, Professor Houston’s membership of SEG, and the creation under strategy 1 of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy and Services Committee of SEG. Progress towards initiative 10(c) will continue and deepen as we implement the Wingara Mura strategy.

10(d) Enhance the pathways and support we provide for Indigenous students to access higher education and pursue both academic and professional staff careers.

Several initiatives in Wingara Mura relate to the development of pathways for the successful recruitment, retention and progression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff, including setting targets for raising the numbers of students and staff by the year 2015. More than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were enrolled in Semester One 2012, however the proportion of this cohort as a percentage of the overall student body slipped slightly as a result of an overall increase in student numbers.

We will trial for four years from 2013 an alternative admissions program that will supplement the ‘traditional’ means used to assess prospective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, such as the ATAR, with non-cognitive variables that have been shown to correlate highly with student achievement at university. Students who join us through this program may also receive scholarship and accommodation support. We expect to agree upon a University marketing strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by the end of 2012.

With regard to staff recruitment, the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW has granted an exemption for the University from part of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) (section 126), which will enable us to establish a merit appointment incentive with the aim of increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in academic and general staff roles. Other Wingara Mura initiatives will support staff right across the University.

10(e) Establish mentoring programs specific to Indigenous researchers at all career stages.

A number of Wingara Mura initiatives relate to support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

10(f) Ensure that the specific accommodation needs of Indigenous students in particular are addressed as part of an integrated approach to solving the University’s accommodation challenges.

Student accommodation is the subject of a specific Wingara Mura initiative.

10(g) Ensure that more students who graduate from the University do so with a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture.

This has already started to happen through our continued provision of financial and other support to the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), founded by one of our graduates while studying here. In 2012, 111 University of Sydney students are participating in the AIME program as mentors, with more than 500 taking part since 2008.

Initiatives in Wingara Mura will go further in embedding an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in all our students, providing them with a significantly different cultural and intellectual experience that will influence their future thinking and attitudes. We will do this through the expansion of a ‘service learning model’ and by developing closer relationships with Aboriginal-controlled organisations to deliver placement opportunities for our students in areas such as medicine, nursing, health sciences, business and social work.