Some of the best stories trace a line to an ending we already know.
The fact that higher education can be a transformational journey for Indigenous students has long been an article of truth for the sector. The variegated nature of the journeys that students take in reaching that destination is often much more opaque.
It is genuinely interesting therefore to read a new paper out of the West, where Edith Cowan PVC I Braden Hill has teamed up with Murdoch U’s Caroiline Nilson, Bep Uink and Catherine Fetherston to fill in the empty areas of understanding about a range of ways that higher education can be transformational.
The paper is fleshed out with several case studies that help illustrate the diversity of background experiences and circumstances that led various Indigenous students to the campus door.
The paper ends with the observation that we know – that at its best, HE can be transformative – but as it progresses towards that conclusion, it casts a fresh light on Indigenous student journeys.
Connection to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical to student success, the group maintain.
“At the cultural interface of academia, students engage with complexity and contradiction, but manage do so with confidence and a sense of purpose and agency because of the support and encouragement of others, particularly Indigenous peers, staff and broader community members,” the group write.
The findings will be interesting to each institution, given the Government’s new requirements in demonstrating improved retention, progression and completion rates for Indigenous students. The paper also suggests that Indigenous students need to be encouraged to learn more about themselves and their place in their culture – to advance their understanding of identity.
“Such changes lead to greater confidence and self-efficacy in relation to university studies, and empower students to embrace the idea that higher education is somewhere they may belong, thrive or at least be able to find what they (or their family and community) need from the journey.”