Research asks, ‘What are the drivers for Indigenous university student success?’

Discovering the reasons for Indigenous university student success is the goal of a new research program called ‘Game Changers’ at Australian Catholic University.  

Game Changers is a pilot program taking a holistic approach, looking at both the drivers and barriers of transition, retention, and completion of higher education. 

A largely Indigenous team is mentoring, supervising, and interning the research at ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE).

It will be led by Indigenous PhD student and Wailwan and Gomeroi woman Georgia Durmush and mentored by ACU IPPE’s Director Professor Rhonda Craven, a well-respected Indigenous Education academic who has close familial ties to the Wonnarua Nation.

Game Changers has appointed a panel of five Indigenous interns, known as ‘Champions’, in a cross-faculty approach from the Faculty of Education and Arts and the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

The Champions are conducting a systematic review of the literature, analysing more than 80 research papers to uncover key factors that support Indigenous students’ university success.  

\Professor Craven said, “Research shows that completing a university education is so powerful that it completely closes the employment gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people.” 

“A university education is a game changer not only for Indigenous individuals – but also for entire communities and for Australia.

“Not only are 92 per cent of Indigenous university graduates engaged in full-time employment within four months of course completion, compared to 87 per cent of non-Indigenous graduates, they earn $4000 more on average.”

Ms Durmush added that, between 2008 and 2017, there had been a triple fold increase in Indigenous university students, but the rate was still only 1.9 per cent of the total Australian university population. 

“Research has shown that attending university is a period characterised by high levels of psychological and financial stress. This may be compounded among Indigenous university students whose wellbeing is already disproportionately low and psychosocial distress high,” she said. 

“The Champions bring their own lenses to the project because Game Changers relates to their personal experiences as First Nations’ students.” 

Ms Durmush explained that each Champion had been given 16 research papers to analyse thematically.

“The program offers the five interns a rich experience in data analysis and focuses 0n the importance of attention-to-detail. Game Changers may therefore also offer the Champions a research pathway to an honours degree or PhD,” she said. 

“The first online Champions meeting was impressive for its excellent engagement, confidence and enthusiasm. Being a First Nations’ university student can be very isolating, but Game Changers offers strong networking opportunities with other university mobs.” 

ACU IPPE’s pilot program, Game-Changers: Enablers of Indigenous University Transition, Retention, is expected to publish its research findings by early 2022. 

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