Saturday, September 15, 2012

Online University Access for Indigenous Communities

The Final Report of the "Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People" was released 14 April 2012 by the Australian Government. The report makes 35 recommendations, aimed at "Parity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff in the higher education sector". The target set is 2.2%, being the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the population.

Measures proposed to achieve this include revising the guidelines for the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) to emphasize academic skills in school. Also universities and the vocational education and training (VET) sectors should work with professional bodies and private and public sector employers on alternative pathways into higher education. It is suggested the MyUniversity website have information on scholarships. A new funding model is proposed with tutoring support for more students.

Of particular interest to me is Recommendation 15:

That universities consider how best to support the needs of regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, including through:

  • the use of virtual networks and other technology-based solutions to provide greater access to universities by remote and regional students ...
  • working with the Higher Education Standards Panel to develop quality standards for Away-from-Base education delivery
  • collaboration to allow recognition of the effort of universities that may enrol students who then go on to complete their degrees at different universities.
These measures for on-line education, education in the community and students being able to study at more than one university would be of benefit to all students, particularly those in remote areas. As a student myself, I found it useful to combine courses from different universities into the one program, using distance education and on campus courses. However, this has been a complex and expensive process.

The report discusses the use of telecommunications to improve access to education:
Access to high-speed technology and virtual networks for regional and remote students

Students from regional and remote areas require access to technology to support their distance learning. The consultations with HDR students indicated that the main forms of communication are often telephone and Skype (a voice-over-internet protocol service), but in many instances, telephone communications are considered unsatisfactory.

Distance Education is very lonely and isolating. I would definitely have enrolled as an internal student if I could have. I saw my supervisor once or twice a year.76

Students often face challenges in gaining sufficient access to university services. One student relates:

I was unaware of any scholarships as I was living out on my homeland in a remote locality.77

Virtual networks would help higher-degree students based in remote or regional areas to better access peers and academics. Suggested approaches during consultations included establishment of online forums and regionally based networks.

The National Broadband Network will play a critical role in increasing functionality of online support and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia has suggested that the needs of remote communities should be addressed in the rollout of the National Broadband Network (submission no. 65, ASSA, p. 6). ...

From: Final Report of the "Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People", Professor Larissa Behrendt, Professor Steven Larkin, Mr Robert Griew and Ms Patricia Kelly, July 2012

Table of Contents of the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

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