Call for doubling of Aboriginal university student

Australia should double the number of Aboriginal people going to university, according to a long-awaited report by academic Larissa Behrendt to be released today.

Professor Behrendt said the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians would only be closed  when Aboriginal people were empowered to find solutions to ‘‘seemingly intractable problems’’ themselves.

‘‘We wonder how it is that we can spend so much effort and so many resources with little impact in improving literacy and health,’’ Professor Behrendt said.

‘‘And we aren’t going to move those statistics without the emergence of a class of professional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and professions with people trained to deal with the specific needs of Aboriginal communities.

‘‘Overcoming socio-economic disadvantage can only be achieved if members of those communities are given the capacity and empowerment to assist in finding the solutions to seemingly intractable problems.’’

Professor Behrendt was last year tasked with heading a review aimed at closing the gap in indigenous higher education.

Her report, to be released today, says Australia should aim to increase the proportion of Aboriginal students at university to 2.2 per cent – equivalent to the indigenous population aged 15-64.

Currently, just 1.09 per cent of Australian students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait islander.

Since the government began dismantling caps on the number of funded university places in 2007, there has been a 37 per cent increase in the number of indigenous students starting at university.

But Professor Behrendt said solutions must be found to keep students there until graduation.

She offered dozens of recommendations, including targeting programs to Indigenous students, developing a national higher education monitoring framework, supporting workers to start degrees or vocational training, building academic skills, especially in math and sciences, in primary and early secondary schools and ‘‘building aspiration’’ among Aboriginal children to go to university.

Professor Behrendt did not recommend the government spend a particular amount on lifting participation rates, although some of her recommendations could require funding boosts.

Tertiary education minister Chris Evans did not commit to increased funding, but said the government would use the report as a ‘‘roadmap’’ in working with universities to lift Aboriginals’ and Torres Strait Islanders’ access to university.

“International experience shows us that producing more Indigenous graduates, qualified to take up professional and leadership roles in business and government, will help address disadvantage,” Senator Evans said.

‘‘The Government will further engage with universities and industry to lift the number of Indigenous engineers, doctors, lawyers, nurses and teachers.”

The story Call for doubling of Aboriginal university student first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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