Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Business Studies)


School of Business


Faculty of Business and Law

First Advisor

Professor Craig Standing

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Third Advisor

Dr Peter Milnes


This was an investigation of factors that assisted Australian Aboriginal students complete or incomplete a business course at a University in Perth between 2000 and 2010. The concept of resilience and related factors of inclusion and exclusion from the participants’ past were assumed clues by the researcher. The investigation involved four inquiries. First, the researcher reviewed recent statistics of Aboriginal population, education and employment. A short history of Aboriginal education in Western Australian was also made. Both reviews indicated Aboriginal people endured relative exclusion and a lower status than the mainstream population in areas of education and employment.

Second, the researcher assumed that a shared interdependency existed between distinct “ethnic groups” (Barth, 1969) in terms of “levels of engagement at the cultural boundaries”. The cultural boundaries consisted of four layers, namely observable behaviour and material artefacts, institutions, values and worldviews (Barney, 1973; P. D. Milnes & Grant, 1999b). At these “cultural boundaries” that the researcher explored, there were more than three “Rs” (i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic) concerns active in the classroom, namely the silent “R”, resilience.

Third, the researcher built upon the theoretical work of Francis’ (1981) ‘teach to the difference’, Nakata’s (1997) idea of ‘cultural interface’ and Milnes’ (2008) concept of ‘meeting place’. The researcher then adapted a new research model called ‘engagement at the cultural boundaries’.

Fourth, the researcher conducted a large case study on four samples. A short life-history interview was made of each sample: 1) a pilot study of a previous business graduate; 2) Aboriginal graduates (n=17); 3) Aboriginal non-graduates (n=13); 4) teaching and administrative staff (n=6). Then the pilot study and three groups of stakeholders were rated with a ‘resilience score’ in terms of their engagement at social and economic boundaries based on their personal, public, training and economic identities.

The researcher concluded that overall ten factors of resilience had assisted the Aboriginal students complete or incomplete the tertiary business course. These ten factors were: a strong self-reference point, sense of community, structured living, strong support network, stakeholders identifying with struggles, significant role models, strong status and a single mindedness to complete the task at hand, skills in crisis management, and a previous history of successful engagement at the cultural boundaries.

Besides the pilot study, the students who completed the tertiary business course had a high resilience score based on previously, strong inclusive engagements at the two key cultural boundaries, the social and economic boundaries. Those students who did not complete the tertiary business course still had a high resilience score, but showed less experiences and examples of inclusive engagement at the overall cultural boundaries prior to and for the duration of the tertiary business course. Teachers of Aboriginal students would do well to discern that Aboriginal students do have a high resilience score overall despite their publicly acknowledged low status and historic loss of economic power. Teachers and key stakeholders in Aboriginal tertiary education also would do well to recognise that some of the ten factors of resilience in Aboriginal tertiary students, especially those resilience factors linked to training and economic identity, require more focus and strengthening. The challenge for all stakeholders of tertiary education is to develop all factors of resilience so that Aboriginal students can experience more inclusion as the latter engage at the tertiary cultural boundary.


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