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: NCSEHE Student Equity Snapshots Forum — What works? Success factors of outreach camps for Indigenous students

The NCSEHE hosted a series of lightning talks and online discussions presented by the 2019/20 Equity Fellows on 26–30 October 2020.

In this lightning talk, Dr Katelyn Barney (University of Queensland) draws upon her NCSEHE Equity Fellowship, to give a snapshot of what makes outreach camps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students a “success” and suggested strategies to improve and strengthen outreach programs.

Katelyn is joined for Q and A by guest facilitator Dr Nicole Crawford (NCSEHE) and guest presenter Professor Maria Raciti (USC), a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group.

Lightning talk recording

Webinar recording (including Q and A)

Full transcript (including Q and A)


#NCSEHE_Snapshots publication

Lightning talk transcript

I acknowledge the traditional owners of lands on which I work and live. I pay my respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. I recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society and acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s contributions to higher education and equity matters across Australia.

My Equity Fellowship focuses on outreach camps run by universities for Indigenous school students. I particularly want to thank and acknowledge the members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group that have worked with me on this Fellowship. I’m a non-Indigenous woman born and living on Jagara and Turrbal lands.

Sarah’s story

I’d like to first share a story of one of the students who I’ve interviewed.

Sarah is an Aboriginal student studying science at a university in a capital city. When she was in Grade 10 Sarah attended an interstate five-day outreach camp at a university with 25 other Indigenous students. This was her first time out of her home state.

Sarah knew she wanted to attend university but that would make her the first in her family to do so, and she didn’t know if she could afford it. The camp was a ‘taste’ of what it’s like to attend university. She did fun workshops across disciplinary areas, experienced a residential college, visited the Indigenous Centre on campus and found out about the financial and social support available to her. These were all great experiences, but what made the greatest impact for Sarah were the people she met. When I interviewed Sarah for this project, she said the best aspect was meeting other Indigenous school students with dreams and goals like hers to attend university. She described it as being ‘like a family’. She was also inspired by the Indigenous university students who were mentors and ambassadors at the camp, many of whom had attended a similar or the same camp.

The camp demonstrated to Sarah that going to university could be a reality, not a dream.

She applied for that university and is now a student there. She still keeps in touch with the students she met on her Grade 10 camp, plus those she met on a second camp in Grade 12. She is also now a student ambassador on that camp. Sarah’s story an example of what works in university outreach programs with Indigenous students.

About the Equity Fellowship

Most universities run camps for Indigenous school students and the case for these initiatives is strong. There is plenty of evidence about the barriers Indigenous students face in entering university. These programs share many similarities: three- to five-day campus experiences for high school students, a variety of information sessions, workshops and events led by Indigenous and non-Indigenous outreach staff and Indigenous student ambassadors or mentors, all aimed at demystifying university culture and, hopefully, resulting in seeing those students enrol and attend university.

As Sarah’s story attests — these camps work but we still don’t really understand how or why? This is what my Equity Fellowship is trying to understand.

Drawing on preliminary findings from interviews with students and staff at five universities, I’m going to focus on three reasons why outreach programs ‘work’ in this context and three ways to strengthen outreach programs.

My drive to do this was because I wanted to understand what works — echoing previous research by Indigenous researchers for the need to focus on ‘success’. As Fredericks et al. (2015, p. 17) note, “what constitutes ‘success’ remains an important question that must be addressed from the different perspectives of the Indigenous student, the institution, the government and the broader Indigenous community”. For example, if an Indigenous high school student attends a camp, but then goes onto attend a different university, this should not necessarily be considered a failure as the focus is on the student and their pathway into tertiary study.

Three success factors of outreach camps

I’ll now give a ‘snapshot’ of three success factors for outreach camps for Indigenous students drawn from the case study sites.

Number 1: connections

The connections and networks students develop through attending outreach camps are significant.  “Family” is a word that comes up many times in interviews with students and outreach staff.  Students talk about the importance of meeting ‘like-minded’ Indigenous students from diverse places on the camps and realising they are not alone in their experiences and goals. They report keeping in touch with this network afterwards, many continuing to friendships on campus. One student said, “uni is such as white space”, which highlights just how important it is for networks and friendships. This is supported extensively in the literature on Indigenous students and their transition into university (e.g., Kinnane et al., 2014; Barney, 2016).

Number 2: ambassadors

Meeting Indigenous university student ambassadors is another important factor of outreach camps. Students talk about how inspiring it is to meet them, a realisation that university study is possible and achievable for them. Ambassadors play an important role in demystifying university and demonstrating how, as Indigenous students, they navigate, survive and thrive at university.

Number 3: experiences

Experiencing practical activities in specific disciplinary areas, balanced with cultural activities, is the third success factor. Students speak with excitement about getting the opportunity to participate in hands-on physics experiences, visiting labs and participating in other exciting learning activities. But they highlight, as equally important, the opportunities for cultural activities, such as yarning sessions about cultural identity.

Three suggested strategies to strengthen outreach camps

Number 1: Post-camp engagement

Many students noted that they would have liked more contact with outreach staff post-camp.  This would strengthen a focus on the ‘whole-of-student-life-cycle’ approach supporting the student through school, into university, and beyond.  This could be achieved with further phone calls to engage with the students after the camp, and even possibly bringing the group together again, via online or face-to-face if possible, at a later date, to maintain the relationship and connection.

Number 2: Indigenous perspectives in the content

Building in further Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum of the ‘hands-on’ activities was seen as something that could further strengthen outreach camps. Certainly some camps do include Indigenous perspectives on the disciplinary focus of the camp but for some camps this could be strengthened further through collaboration between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centres and outreach programs to ensure Indigenous perspectives are embedded in the content.

Number 3: Further collaboration between outreach practitioners and researchers 

… so that evaluation processes can be more comprehensive and nuanced. My Fellowship plans to do this by developing resources/video clips for outreach staff to share tips about embedding evaluation into outreach programs for Indigenous students. Certainly, evaluation in the Indigenous higher education context is increasingly important as universities respond to and innovate in this socially distanced environment.

Many students I’ve interviewed, like Sarah, attended multiple camps, either returning to the same camp twice, or doing numerous different camps over their high school years. Their stories emphasise that camps are part of an important suite of outreach activities Indigenous students can participate in which can help lead them on their pathways to university. I hope the Fellowship findings contribute to supporting stronger evaluation of Indigenous student focused outreach programs to increase pathways for Indigenous students into universities.

Lightning talk slides (accessible)