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Co-operation to close the gap in Indigenous higher education

The signing tonight of the Toorong Marnong Accord between the nine Victorian universities and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association launches a new era in Indigenous education.

Spokesman for the Victorian Vice-Chancellors Committee, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University Professor John McCallum, said the accord would lead to greater opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"This accord marks a critical shift in our approach to Indigenous tertiary education," Professor McCallum said. "Rather than competing for students the Victorian universities are now working co-operatively to ensure that as many Aboriginal people as possible have the opportunity to study at university."

"Let's be clear about this: the number of Indigenous people completing university study is far too low. In Victoria there are about 1000 Indigenous students, which is a good base, but too many drop out of undergraduate courses. We need to boost completion rates by two and half times to reach parity with the wider community.

"We know the reasons for these poor numbers - they include dispossession, dispersal, the tragedy of the Stolen Generations and, something that may surprise university staff but still exists, namely racism.

"We can't immediately obliterate these blights on our past - and indeed on our present - but we can move steadily together to overcome them, which is what this accord seeks to do.

"But we must also acknowledge the past.

"This accord launches a partnership between our universities and the Indigenous people of Victoria. Toorong Marnong means "joined hands" in the Woiwurrung language of the of the Wurundjeri people, on whose land most of the Victorian universities sit.

"The accord acknowledges that Indigenous people are the traditional owners of the land upon which our universities are built, that they have a rich history of education, and that we value the integrity and wisdom of our Koorie people.

"This is a new collective approach that encourages Aboriginal people to come to our universities as students, as members of staff and as representatives of their community.

"In practical terms we have already begun producing a handbook detailing Indigenous programs, scholarships, support mechanisms and campus locations at all nine institutions.

"We are investigating a broad range of other initiatives to lift Aboriginal participation in tertiary education. These include:

  • joint marketing and recruitment campaigns
  • outreach programs to support Indigenous high school students
  • annual awards and conferences
  • state-wide staff and student networks
  • a database of Indigenous tutors
  • the development of a pool of staff to supervise Indigenous postgraduate research
  • the creation of a web portal

"We can't forget the poor record of the past in Indigenous affairs, but we can move forward together with dignity, respect and in a spirit of co-operation, which is what this accord sets out to do."

The nine Victorian universities that are signatories to the accord are: Australian Catholic University, Deakin University, La Trobe University, Monash University, RMIT University, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Ballarat, University of Melbourne and Victoria University.

The Accord will be signed at 7.30 pm, 8 December, at Tjanabi Restaurant, The Atrium, Federation Square by the President of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Geraldine Atkinson and the Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University, Professor Sally Walker, on behalf of the Victorian Vice-Chancellors Committee.

Media contact: Jim Buckell, A/Senior Media Officer
Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
Ph: (03) 9919 4243; mobile: 0400 465 459

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