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: Higher education aspirations, participation, and achievement of Australian Indigenous males

James Smith1, Himanshu Gupta1, Sam Moore1, Jesse Fleay2, Garth Stahl3, Bep Uink4, Andrew Harvey5, Peter Radoll6, Braden Hill2, Rebecca Bennett4, Jahdai Vigona1, Anthony Merlino1

Executive summary

This report summarises the findings of the 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.

Qualitative, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with Indigenous male students and alumni (n = 19) across five state and territory jurisdictions (NT, WA, VIC, ACT and QLD) to gain insights into participants’ aspirations for, and engagement and participation in, higher education. It is important to acknowledge that this project is non-Indigenous led. However, the research team included multiple Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and educators from across Australia, aiming to include the integration of Indigenist perspectives and adopt (wherever possible) principles of Indigenous Data Sovereignty throughout the different stages of research design, fieldwork, analysis, and knowledge translation.

Findings highlighted the aspirations of Indigenous men and their families to engage in higher education. The aspirations were motivated by a desire to acquire knowledge and skills to gain employment, invest in community development, and to mentor peers and family members. Participants were motivated to pursue topics they were passionate about and sought to embed Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into theories and practice.

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. These supports were most effective when used in conjunction with effective evidence-based study habits. On the other hand, barriers to engaging in higher education 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. Finally, barriers to sustaining higher education also emerged, including those associated with COVID-19 disruptions to study schedules and routines.

It is recommended that higher education institutes develop promotional 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 men in their place, Country, and community, allowing them to maintain a connection to social and cultural supports. There is also a need for government grants and university in-kind contributions to libraries and community centres in remote locations for computers, books, and other 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 men, many of which experience cumulative equity impacts, such as remoteness, or lower socioeconomic status.

This report explains how and why Indigenous men engage and succeed in higher education. However, further research is needed, including perspectives from family, community members, those who may be reluctant to engage in higher education and those at risk of disengaging from education to fully understand the multifaceted, often intergenerational journey for Indigenous men to participate in higher 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 project

Qualitative, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with Indigenous male students and alumni (n = 19) across five state and territory jurisdictions (NT, WA, VIC, ACT and QLD) to gain insights into participants’ aspirations for, and engagement and participation in, higher education. It is important to acknowledge that this project is non-Indigenous led. However, the research team included multiple Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and educators from across Australia, aiming to include the integration of Indigenist perspectives and adopt (wherever possible) principles of Indigenous Data Sovereignty throughout the different stages of research design, fieldwork, analysis, and knowledge translation.

Key findings

Findings highlighted the aspirations of Indigenous men and their families to engage in higher education. The aspirations were motivated by a desire to acquire knowledge and skills to gain employment, invest in community development, and to mentor peers and family members. Participants were motivated to pursue topics they were passionate about and sought to embed Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into theories and practice.

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. These supports were most effective when used in conjunction with effective evidence-based study habits. On the other hand, barriers to engaging in higher education 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. Finally, barriers to sustaining higher education also emerged, including those associated with COVID-19 disruptions to study schedules and routines.

It is recommended that higher education institutes develop promotional 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 men in their place, Country, and community, allowing them to maintain a connection to social and cultural supports. There is also a need for government grants and university in-kind contributions to libraries and community centres in remote locations for computers, books, and other 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 men, many of which experience cumulative equity impacts, such as remoteness, or lower socioeconomic status.

This report explains how and why Indigenous men engage and succeed in higher education. However, further research is needed, including perspectives from family, community members, those who may be reluctant to engage in higher education and those at risk of disengaging from education to fully understand the multifaceted, often intergenerational journey for Indigenous men to participate in higher 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.

Recommendations

Higher education institutions can:

  • Acknowledge the under-representation of Indigenous males in higher education and prioritise targeted education and social supports.
  • Work towards building an evidence-base about strategies that better support Indigenous males to navigate the intersections between and cumulative impacts of gender, age, and culture.
  • Expand targeted scholarship and program supports for Indigenous male students to support their transition into and sustained participation within university. These should include supports for study materials, travel (particularly for students living away from home) and social supports that improve their health and wellbeing.
  • Provide free classes, equipment, and resources to remote community centres and libraries to simultaneously build community relationships, and improve higher education awareness and engagement.
  • Promote the stories of current Indigenous students, community members and alumni in promotional campaigns aimed at attracting and retaining Indigenous males in higher education.
  • Expand the number of Indigenous study mentors (particularly male mentors) and programs on campus to provide academic support and to reduce feelings of alienation that Indigenous male students may face.

Governments and funding bodies can:

  • Identify Indigenous males as a priority (sub)population in higher education policy and program settings at a national level.
  • Fund higher education institutions to develop and implement targeted programs and services for Indigenous males,, including those: (a) aspiring to pursue higher education; and (b) currently participating in higher education.
  • Invest more heavily in travel scholarships to support students to return home during semester breaks.

Read the full report: Higher education aspirations, participation, and achievement of Australian Indigenous males


This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.


1Menzies School of Health Research
2Edith Cowan University
3University of Queensland
4Murdoch University
5La Trobe University
6University of Canberra

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