Friday, August 4, 2023

Funding Indigenous Students is Worthwhile if Suitable Courses Are Provided

The Australian Government has extended study funding of indigenous students to those in urban areas, as part of a package of changes in response to the  Interim Report of the Australian Universities Accord inquiry. Professor Andrew Norton has asked if it will make much of a difference? I suggest funding for indigenous students will be beneficial, but only if there are courses, & services, for their needs. As Professor Norton points out, indigenous Year 12 completion rates are low, so bridging will be needed, but the Australian Government is not going to pay for them. I suggest that problem can be sidestepped, by building the needed training into the degree curriculum. This will help all students: urban, rural, indigenous, non-indigenous, domestic, and international.

Professor Norton points out that sub-bachelor programs were excluded from funding previously. But there is an easy workaround which universities use for other studnts, the Professor did not mention: tell the student to enroll in a Bachelor program, then exit early with a diploma (or now the option of a certificate). However, at present such a sub-degree program will likely be just the introductory units of the bachelors degree. What is needed are enabling courses on how to study, and communicate. Such courses would also be of use to non-indigenous, domestic and international students. Particularly in STEM programs, there is a tendency to do the hard science first, and leave the communication and teamwork skills to second and third year. I suggest reversing this for all students, teaching them how to work and learn at the start.

Building what are normally part of enabling courses into degree programs will go some way to solve funding programs. Professors will grumble that all this non-core stuff is at the expect of core subjects. But learning very technical content is of no use if the graduate can't communicate it, can't work in a team, or can't get to graduate because they don't know how to learn. As I have discussed previously in this Blog, these communication, teamwork, and leadership skills are key to the success of any professional.

Another way to support indigenous and other studnts is with online and mobile learning. Students learn best when in the community, not on a campus. Universities can provide all courses online, by default. This allows studnts to meet work and cultural commitments more easily, while studying.

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