The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Should culturally responsive and gender-sensitive strategies be adopted to increase university participation among Australian Indigenous males?

Dr Himanshu Gupta, Professor James Smith & Mr Sam Moore
Menzies School of Health Research, NT, Australia

Global evidence suggests that educational interventions aimed at reducing disengagement and attrition from school and university can yield wide-ranging benefits for men, particularly young males of colour from First Nations and African American backgrounds. In Australia, the underrepresentation of Indigenous males in higher education is stark, with very little known about how to increase their participation.

Here, we present findings from the NCSEHE-funded project, Higher education aspirations, participation, and achievement of Australian Indigenous males, led by the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing – Northern Territory at Menzies School of Health Research. Nineteen interviews were conducted with Indigenous male students and alumni across five Australian states and territories (NT, WA, VIC, ACT, and QLD) to gain insights into their aspirations for, and engagement and participation in, higher education.

Indigenous males’ motivations to engage in higher education were discussed. Participants in the study indicated a desire to acquire knowledge and skills to gain employment, invest in community development, and to mentor peers and family members. The interviewees reflected on how they were motivated to pursue topics they were passionate about and sought to embed Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into theories and practice.

Other enabling factors to pursue higher education included structural supports within universities that sustained their studies. The supports included flexible course arrangements, timelines and deadlines, provision of scholarships to cover living and study expenses, and access to Indigenous student support services.

Participants also described barriers to engaging in higher education. These included financial constraints, a lack of academic preparation in high school, and perceived mystification of university shaped by a lack of general awareness and course promotion. Further, COVID-19-related disruptions to study schedules and routines, and a lack of physical connection with peers and mentors, were described as barriers to sustaining their participation in higher education.

Participants discussed the need for higher education institutes to develop promotional campaigns. The recommendations included campaigns featuring Indigenous male role models and their education stories, particularly education pathways that emphasise qualifications related to employment in health, education, and welfare sectors.

The rise of online courses creates the potential for higher education to meet Indigenous males in their place, country, and community, allowing them to maintain a connection to social and cultural supports. Effective contributions could include provisions for free or subsidised computer setups and study materials, designed to increase higher education awareness, computer literacy and, ultimately, participation in online university courses. Scholarships covering study costs and living expenses are vital entry factors to higher education for Indigenous males, many of whom experience cumulative equity impacts, such as remoteness, or lower socioeconomic status.

This blog provides a snapshot of how and why Indigenous males engage and succeed in higher education. However, further research is needed to fully understand the multifaceted, often intergenerational journey for Indigenous males to participate in higher education. This should include perspectives of family, community members, those who may be reluctant to engage in higher education, and those at risk of disengaging from education. Culturally responsive and gender-sensitive strategies that can be adopted by various sectors to increase university participation and completion rates among this cohort are also urgently needed.

The final research report, funded under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, will be available on the NCSEHE website in 2022.