Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Indigenous Higher Education: Overcoming Barriers to Participation in Research Higher Degree Programs

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Indigenous Higher Education: Overcoming Barriers to Participation in Research Higher Degree Programs

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper explores the barriers faced by Indigenous peoples to participation in research higher degree (RHD) programs--one of the critical mechanisms for increasing the presence of Indigenous students, staff and senior decision makers in universities. Indigenous RHD participation has emerged as a critical dimension of social inequity, particularly in relation to Indigenous struggles to be heard in major Australian institutions (IHEAC 2011). It plays a central role in Indigenous Australia's capacity to voice its concerns and represent its interests in all the major institutions that shape people's access to economic and social resources. In analysing the obstacles encountered by Indigenous peoples in accessing and completing postgraduate research education, we argue that while Commonwealth Government higher education policy has progressed Indigenous R HD participation, it has simultaneously contributed to consolidating universities as international businesses whose main priority is to compete in an increasingly integrated global knowledge economy in order to survive. The organisational dynamics required of such institutions marginalise the advancement of social goals related to equitable participation, such as Indigenous participation in RHD programs. The paper suggests that although some universities have begun to include Indigenous academics in management, more thoroughgoing integration of Indigenous Australians at all levels of university organisation is required.

Introduction

As in health, prevailing policy approaches to educational inequity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians draw heavily on technocratic understandings of 'the problem' (Bacchi 2012). Regardless of their political complexions over the past decade or so, Australian governments and their administrations have focused on 'closing the gap' in educational participation and performance measures between Indigenous and other Australians (Australian Government 2011; Commonwealth of Australia 2002:xviii). Yet, as also in health, this statistical representation of educational inequity belies a more complex reality illustrated by the growing pockets of participation and achievement that accompany the headline-hitting failure and drop-out rates in Indigenous education. One such pocket is Indigenous participation in research higher degrees (RHDs)--an area of demonstrably increased enrolments and completions (as shown below) but one that also reveals a long way to go towards equitable Indigenous participation. This paper examines the barriers faced by Indigenous peoples to participation in RHDs and their significance in increasing participation by Indigenous students, staff and senior decision makers in university institutions. In addressing and analysing this issue, we draw on recent theoretical advances in critical organisation studies, particularly with reference to the institutional impacts of the incorporation of Australian universities into the global knowledge economy and their growing marketisation.

Indigenous participation and the corporatist university context

Only a very small proportion of Australians are engaged in postgraduate research education but the rate of doctoral and other research degree graduations in Australia has been estimated as comparable to the most recent average calculated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development--around 1.6% of all university degree graduations (OECD 2012:67). Despite the comparatively small proportion of Australians engaged in RHDs, Australian governments have identified postgraduate research education as a vital component of national research and development--a resource closely linked to economic productivity in a competitive global context (Australian Productivity Commission 2003; Reiger, Schofield and Peters in press). In the past, there was some recognition by governments of the broader social contribution that postgraduate research education makes, particularly with respect to promoting 'intellectual and cultural vibrancy' and a local academic workforce (Australian Industry Commission 1995). …

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