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: New research — Personal connections key to the success of Indigenous university outreach

Indigenous school students value the opportunity to build connections with their peers through university outreach camps, but more could be done to improve the delivery and evaluation of these programs, new research has shown.

The Fellowship report by NCSEHE Equity Fellow Dr Katelyn Barney from the University of Queensland calls for additional university support to further enhance these initiatives.

“Most universities run outreach initiatives for Indigenous high school students including on-campus information sessions, workshops and events to demystify university culture and cultivate a sense of belonging,” Dr Barney said.

“Outreach camps are part of a suite of outreach activities that many Indigenous students undertake while at school, but there has been little investigation into what works in these programs, and how that can be carried forward to further improve university outreach for Indigenous students.”

Working closely with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group and Aboriginal research assistant Hayley Williams, the Fellowship mapped and evaluated outreach programs for Indigenous students, engaged with students and staff, and developed strategies for strengthening and improving outreach camps.

Participants in the study noted one of the key success factors for outreach camps was the peer-to-peer connections formed among Indigenous students.

The study identified the need for improved post-camp engagement with students, as well as cultural aspects and Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum. More practical resources were also indicated to assist staff with program evaluation.

The research informed recommendations for universities and government to optimise the effectiveness of Indigenous outreach camps.

“University leadership needs to provide more training for outreach staff to effectively evaluate their programs and outreach staff and university leadership should work together to ensure clear, agreed-upon ‘measures for success’ in relation to outreach programs,” Dr Barney said.

“Additionally, university outreach staff should continue to engage post-camp with Indigenous students who participate in outreach activities so that students are supported beyond undertaking the camp, through the whole-of-student-life-cycle, from school, into university and beyond.”

The report recommends the Australian Government could test the feasibility of including evaluation of Indigenous outreach programs as a specific part of the current investment in the Student Equity in Higher Education Evaluation Framework and the Widening Participation Longitudinal Study (WPLS).

NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea commented on the importance of analysing good practice to develop future policy and practice.

“University outreach camps specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are extremely valuable as an introduction to the university experience, as well as a chance to forge connections and establish a sense of belonging,” Professor O’Shea said.

“Dr Barney has recognised an opportunity to identify the specific factors contributing to this success in order to strengthen future program delivery and evaluation.”

Dr Barney’s Equity Fellowship was conducted under the NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Read the full report, Building a stronger evidence base to support effective outreach strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students: Increasing impact and university participation

Fellowship outputs

Equity Fellowship Snapshot — Building a stronger evidence base to support effective outreach strategies for Indigenous students

This research was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Feature image: Inspirational Stepping Stones by Aunty Denise Proud