National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research, Macquarie University in association with the Centre for Applied Language Research at Edith Cowan University
Place of Publication
Centre for Applied Language Research
Australian Research Council
One of the striking features of Australian higher education over the last ten years has been the marked increase in participation by Indigenous Australians. In a National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, carried out in 1994, it was noted that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students had more than doubled between 1988 and 1993 (National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 1994:28-29). Indigenous Australians constitute 1.6 per cent of the population of Australia and in 1993 some 5,578 indigenous people were attending Australian public universities, which is 1.3% of all Australian students in percentage terms. Edith Cowan University, in 1995, had an overall student population of 18,058 and an Aboriginal student population of 359 (2% of the total).
In some ways, however, these encouraging figures are deceptive. A majority of the Aboriginal students enrolled in the university (64%) are engaged in bridging courses which were set up to prepare them for entry to university degrees. Like the degree students, some of these are on campus, some in regional centres and some are enrolled as external students, coming to the university twice a semester for a week's intensive tuition. The population of Indigenous Australians in higher education also differs from the non-Indigenous population in that they are more likely to have gained entry through special provisions: they are older when commencing university and they are under-represented in many areas of study, particularly science, technology and the more prestigious professional areas such as medicine, law and engineering.