2012 Wingara Mura implementation

Update from Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)

Since the University released Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu earlier this year a lot has happened. As 2012 ends and we prepare for 2013, I wanted to update the University community on progress around some of our major reforms in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education.

Koori Centre transformation

There is no one model for Aboriginal education centres in Australian higher education. The transformation of the Koori Centre aims to position it for a leadership role in Sydney’s expanded effort in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education, research and engagement.

The existing facilities at the Koori Centre – the common room, library and computer room – will remain. But, the University needs to enhance these student spaces. Over coming months we will be considering how we could improve them to reinforce the Koori Centre as a culturally affirming space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

In 2013 the only difference at the Koori Centre will be that teaching will be aligned to faculties. Courses will be taught in much the same manner they were in 2012, but faculties will manage the teaching: we are keen to ensure that every faculty is known nationally and internationally for its excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and research. This move is consistent with the recommendations of the recent national Review of Access and Outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education.

In addition, in the coming year we will establish a culturally safe sister space where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, staff and communities and non-Aboriginal students, staff and communities can come together and talk respectfully and openly with each other and with visiting local, national and international indigenous thinkers. We will use this space to explore the many issues important to building a reconciled and inclusive Australian society, a society where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural distinctiveness and rights are part of our national character and ethos.

Local implementation plans

To deliver on the objectives in Wingara Mura we need to combine our efforts as a University through a series of collaborative initiatives. Firstly, and most importantly, faculties and professional service units are currently developing local implementation plans (LIPs) that combine the strategic priorities and objectives set out in Wingara Mura with local issues, capacity and energy. Eleven faculties have already completed LIPs, as have a number of professional services units. We anticipate that all faculties will have completed their LIPs before the end of 2012.

To complement the LIPs, we are implementing a small number of centrally managed enabling initiatives that provide support and capability across a number of faculties and Wingara Mura initiatives. For example, work is progressing on the creation of the National Centre for Cultural Competence, a resource that will assist the University to incorporate cultural competence into our learning and teaching and other core functions.

The LIPs form the basis of an annual business planning cycle that is linked to the University budget cycle. The intention is that by February 2013 we will have compiled a whole-of-University 2013 implementation plan, and allocated resources to enable implementation to get underway. We will report progress regularly to the SEG Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy and Services Committee and then to SEG.

Student transition and retention

One of the key contributions we can make will be to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able to take up the opportunity to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level at one of Australia’s best universities – and to successfully complete their studies.

We have established new entry pathways to Sydney, strengthened outreach to schools and are also implementing new creative approaches to engaging with potential students. Many of these initiatives are already gaining the attention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and families. Early data indicates that the number of Aboriginal students who list the University of Sydney as a preference is increasing: more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are having a serious look at Sydney.

Creating these new pathways is just the first step in our drive to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student numbers and success. The Aboriginal student support officer and the ITAS coordinator formerly at the Koori Centre joined Student Support Services in late 2011 and plans are underway to strengthen our effort by providing ‘wrap around’ support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This coordinated approach will enable our support officers and students to develop a more interactive continuous relationship that brings them together in different places and at different times around the campus. For example, we might find students and support officers at the Koori Centre, on the Law School lawns or at Jane Foss Russell Building coffee shops. We will recruit new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student support officers in 2013. We are also increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tutorial spaces and working with the Australian government to improve tutorial and pastoral support.

These three reforms are part of a University-wide effort to live up to the commitments and promises we made in Wingara Mura. The way the University community has lent its enthusiasm and skill to this agenda in 2012 bodes very well for even better outcomes in 2013 and beyond. Congratulations to all – job well done!

Professor Shane Houston