Funding reform catalyst for first Indigenous faculty

QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil AO. | Newsreel
QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil AO | Photo: Supplied by QUT

By QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil AO

Amidst the commentary on the Voice to Parliament referendum, the significance of recent amendments to Federal Government funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education has received scant attention.

This reform extends the availability of university places for all qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, not just those in remote and regional Australia.

Given the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Brisbane is 1.5 times that of the Northern Territory, the potential impact of this change is significant in reach, but also in the signal it sends to those aspiring for higher education and the benefits it yields in terms of employment, health, and well-being.

This legislative change has inspired QUT to establish a new Faculty of Indigenous Knowledges and Culture to expand our capacity in Indigenous Australian education, research, and engagement, not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students but for students across all our programs.

The faculty will be the first of its kind in Australia – a complete stand-alone faculty that will accelerate our commitment to support programs to drive change and understanding for the benefit of all Australians.

Our vision for the new faculty is centred on a partnership model with external stakeholders – particularly community organisations – to accelerate academic programs, pathways, professional development, and training and research, within a culturally sensitive environment.

We aim to draw students and partners from throughout Australia to this hub and will have adjunct professors and professors of practice from throughout the community working with our academic staff.

It will also provide a connection point for us to engage with our outstanding alumni including many who have been leading the way at the highest levels in the real world of their professions and practices.

Providing an opportunity for all our graduates to gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous Australian knowledges and culture builds on our core philosophy of providing education relevant to the real world.

The new faculty will offer programs from pre-award pathways through to undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees, alone and in collaboration with other programs across the university.

A strong suite of continuing professional education offerings will support the urgent need for upskilling in Indigenous Australian knowledges and culture across the public and private sectors in many professional areas such as justice, health, social work, law, politics, the arts, and education.

Whether in medicine, science or organisational governance, the knowledge derived from Indigenous Australian knowledges and culture can offer practical alternative approaches to critical age-old questions.

Currently the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at QUT is underpinned by the expertise and contribution of our Oodgeroo Unit and the Carumba Institute, in collaboration with the Indigenous Australian community at various levels.

Indigenous Australians have made QUT their university of choice in large numbers with students coming from across the Brisbane region as well as from rural communities including Murgon State High School.

The university has the highest number of Indigenous Australian commencing students of any university in Queensland.

Significantly, QUT has focused on increasing award course completions for Indigenous Australian students and is currently ranked fifth in Australia.

We are also committed to increasing our Indigenous Australian employment rate to 3.6 per cent of the total workforce.

With a goal of doubling our Indigenous Australian student enrolment within the next five years, we will need to seek additional support from governments, communities, and donors, to address the costs of accommodation and living expenses – a challenge for all our students, but particularly those for whom finances are especially tight and cultural barriers are especially high.

We will need to collaborate with our work placement partners to ensure they can provide culturally safe experiences, mentors, and role models for students so that we can address the recent decline in university enrolments in education, particularly early childhood education.

While this will be the first such faculty in Australia, we anticipate others will follow.

We also expect there will be strong interest from exchange students to Australia. For example, Norwegian students are one of largest cohorts of study abroad students at QUT.

There are learnings from the experience in Norway with the Sámi peoples and we know many international students seek a better understanding of First Nations cultures as part of their time in Australia, and to date this has been difficult for us to provide.

Finally, QUT has an award-winning Campus to Country positioning strategy that guides the future development of our inner-city campuses: Gardens Point on the Brisbane River (or Maiwar) and Kelvin Grove, which will be adjacent to many of the venues for the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The eyes of the world will be upon us, and we hope they will marvel not just at the skill of our athletes but also at the way we have proudly integrated the world’s oldest continuous culture into a vibrant educational, research and cultural precinct.

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