By JAMES A SMITH
Growing Indigenous participation and success in higher education (HE) has frequently been highlighted as a priority for improving the health, social and economic outcomes of Indigenous people. Recent academic scholarship has reinforced the importance of strengthening evaluation in Indigenous HE contexts to achieve this goal and paralleled discussions about the importance of Indigenous data sovereignty, including that relating to HE.
Despite successive calls from Indigenous advisory groups and education experts for the Commonwealth Government and Australian universities to invest in a performance, monitoring and evaluation framework specifically tailored to measure Indigenous HE outcomes, there has been minimal action.
Throughout 2017, I had the privilege to undertake a National Centre for Student Equity in HE (NCSEHE) Equity Fellowship. This involved in-depth interviews with 24 Indigenous scholars across each Australian state and territory. The analysis described the challenges and opportunities associated with strengthening evaluation in Indigenous HE in Australia. These Indigenous perspectives called for greater accountability of government and universities and identified 14 enablers and drivers to strengthen evaluation practice. A key recommendation was for “The Australian HE sector, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium, Universities Australia and the Australian Government to prioritise the development of a National Indigenous HE Performance and Evaluation Strategy.” It was recommended that this should be “Indigenous-led and appropriately resourced” to ensure optimum success.
The HE sector has recently been afforded a unique policy window to advocate for tangible action. The Productivity Commission is currently undertaking a consultation process to inform the development of an overarching Indigenous Evaluation Strategy for all policy and programs funded by the Australian Government. While this is a departure from a more specific evaluation framework tied to Indigenous HE, it marks an important opportunity to advocate for resources and capacity building to influence positive change. I encourage all HE stakeholders to embrace this opportunity.
Professor James A. Smith
Father Frank Flynn Fellow (Harm Minimisation), Menzies School of Health Research
Adjunct Professorial Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University