Higher Education will be a key focus of the Voice to Parliament if this years’ referendum is passed, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney announced yesterday.
Speaking at the National Press, Minister Burney said the Voice to parliament would focus on four key policy areas where efforts had conspicuously failed to improve outcomes for Indigenous people – education, health, housing and jobs.
“Our people are more likely to have experienced homelessness than to hold an undergraduate degree,” Ms Burney said.
“In 2020, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locked up in a prison cell was four times as many as those who celebrated graduating uni that year.
“The starting point for reconciliation has to be listening to the wishes of Indigenous people.”
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote later this year, the sector is set to face increased scrutiny over its record on Indigenous graduates, Indigenous staffing numbers and Indigenous research outcomes.
Universities Australia’s Annual Report on Indigenous Strategy notes that Indigenous students comprise 2.08 per cent of all domestic enrolments in 2021, with more students enrolling in humanities than STEM. Indigenous academic staff continue to be represented around 1 per cent of Australia’s academic workforce.
Pro Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Leadership at the University of Canberra, Professor Maree Meredith, said the Federal Government clearly intended to pay closer attention to outcomes delivered by the sector.
“The sector is on notice that the Federal Government’s microscope is firmly focused in our direction,” Professor Meredith said.
“Minister Burney’s address is the latest in a series of signals which indicate that university performance in relation to growing Indigenous graduates, Indigenous staff numbers and community-focused Indigenous research.
“There is tremendous goodwill across the sector with staff wanting to see better outcomes – and now with the Federal Government’s clear focus on this area, there is an urgency to change gear; from goodwill to better outcomes.”
Indigenous executive recruitment specialist, Pipeline Talent CEO Ms Rachelle Towart said there was a strong growth in demand for Indigenous staff in management and leadership roles across the sector.
“We have higher education jobs on our books almost constantly,” Ms Towart said.
“The challenge is that the demand for more Indigenous staff ready to work at the executive level in education is being matched and often exceeded by demand from other sectors. There is a lot of talent out there, when you know where to find people – but there are even more job opportunities.”