It has been known for years now that students who engage more frequently in educationally effective practices get better grades, are more satisfied, and are more likely to persist with their studies. It is also known that while engagement is positively linked to desired outcomes for all types of students, historically underserved students tend to benefit more than majority students. In the case of Indigenous Australians, positive responses in relation to engagement and satisfaction are not necessarily accompanied by the overall levels of persistence and completion one would expect. Moreover, New Zealand Maori students surveyed in the AUSSE reveal similar characteristics: Maori students report even higher levels of overall satisfaction than Indigenous Australians but at the same time are more likely than their non-Maori peers to consider leaving their institution. In relation to Indigenous students’ overall engagement in Australasian higher education, therefore, there are certainly pleasing developments – but there are also anomalies which require explanation. This AUSSE Research Briefing explores complex issues relating to Indigenous Australians surveyed in the AUSSE, and draws on a range of evidence to offer possible explanations. The briefing aims to: • identify areas where Indigenous students appear to be engaging with their study in significantly different ways to non-Indigenous students, and offer possible explanations for such differences; • note areas of engagement where there are no meaningful differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students; • utilise various sources of data (including open-ended responses in the AUSSE; other national surveys; and research with Indigenous academics) to highlight likely influences on Indigenous engagement; and • draw particular attention to factors such as ‘Block Mode’ of study; the roles of Indigenous centres and staff; and how links with community may influence student engagement. This briefing offers new insights, but it also affirms that more research is needed. More specifically, we conclude by suggesting new questionnaire items for future national survey instruments. The complexities and contradictions inherent in this important area of higher education require us to be both nuanced in our interpretations, and diligent in obtaining more information.
Asmar, Christine, Page, Susan and Radloff, Ali 'Dispelling myths: Indigenous students’ engagement with university', AUSSE Research Briefings, v.10 April 2011