Proud Yuin/Wandandian and Ngarigo man, Professor Reuben Bolt has been appointed as Deputy Vice-Chancellor First Nations Leadership (DVCFNL) at Charles Darwin University, making CDU the third university in Australia to make such an appointment.
The only other two universities in Australia that have established First Nations focused DVC roles are the University of Sydney with Prof Shane Houston’s appointment (2011-2017) and his successor Prof Lisa Jackson-Pulver (2018-current) and Western Sydney University with the appointment of Prof Michelle Trudgett in 2021.
Professor Bolt joined CDU in January 2020 as the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership and Regional Outreach (PVCILRO), and he is the first person of First Nations heritage to graduate with a PhD at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
“This appointment is significant for the country, and it tells the community that the university is serious about addressing issues that First Nations people experience around unemployment and addresses the lack of representation of First Nations peoples in senior leadership roles. It gets at the heart of the low levels of education completion rates,” Professor Bolt said.
Professor Bolt said in his teenage years he didn’t engage as much as he could have in high school. However, he later rose up to his aspirations and was recently nominated for the Decade Award at Kelso High School (now Denison College) which he will accept in December this year.
After completing his HSC, he travelled the world performing traditional First Nations dance before starting his higher education journey.
CDU’s recently released Strategic Plan 2021-26 outlines a strong commitment to honouring Australian First Nations’ knowledge and cultures by recognising, embedding, and celebrating the transformative leadership of First Nations people at CDU.
The University also seeks to become the most recognised university for First Nations training, education, and research to improve education outcomes, retention rates, and employment opportunities.
“We must improve First Nations success rates at CDU and to do that we must embed a whole of University approach to the implementation of our Strategic Plan and initiatives to ensure our staff are cognisant of the cultural sensitivities in First Nations communities,” he said.
“Doing so will ensure they are confident to deeply engage.”
Professor Bolt said CDU intended to expand its First Nations pre-programs and the Bidjipidji school taster program so that the university could build the pipeline of First Nations students into CDU higher education and VET courses.
“But what is critically important here, is how our Higher Education and VET courses align to jobs within current and emerging industries for each region of the NT,” he said.
“This is where CDU plays a central role in the development of the First Nations workforce in the NT.”
The Northern Territory’s population is 30 per cent Indigenous with more than 1000 First Nations students enrolling in CDU’s Higher Education courses. This student cohort is predominantly mature-aged with an average age of 35, around half from regional and remote areas.
CDU Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman said the university was focused on improving employment outcomes for First Nations people and ensuring its education offerings were in line with community expectations to best deliver for these communities.
“As the University of the Territory, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re connected to communities and are delivering the education offerings that best support the success of First Nations people in the Territory. We have a responsibility to ensure success rates of First Nations student improves in all universities and CDU should be leading the way.
“We’re keen to support research that will lead to better outcomes for First Nations communities across the country and we’ll continue to grow the next generation of Indigenous leaders to ensure they are at the centre of decision-making processes.”