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Northern Institute

Higher Education and First Nations Students: The CDU Story

HEPPP Project Update
Presenter Dr Tracy Woodroffe, Dr Kate Golebiowska & Alicia Boyle (NI Researchers) and Dr Guzyal Hill (Faculty of Arts & Society).
Contact person
Northern Institute
T: 08 8946 7468 E:
Location Menzies Boardroom 2.46
Building Red 9, CDU Casuarina Campus
Open to Public


The presentation will deliver findings and progress of the second year of the 3-year HEPPP project Higher Education Experience for First Nations Students at CDU, investigating issues of retention and completion of the First Nations students enrolled in undergraduate courses at CDU. Considering the engagement of First Nations students in a regional setting is ground-breaking, and the project is on track to deliver mutually informed lessons for the CDU staff and the First Nations students themselves. 

This second year of research has been characterised by qualitative data collection through interviews with student-nominated lecturing staff and CDU First Nations Students Support staff to deepen our understanding of the key factors in retention and completion. We will complete focus groups (FG) with the lecturers and professional staff by the end of the year. 

Research highlights the inequity and underrepresentation of First Nations people in Higher Education enrolment and completion. This can lead to a lack of equal opportunity in employment, life choices and social inclusion. Since the completion of the Behrendt Review in 2012, inequity continues to be an issue. 

The project aims to provide current evidence that will increase completion rates among First Nations undergraduate students attending CDU and increase knowledge about student enrolment and engagement, improving the likelihood of completion by taking cultural background and the need to embed culture into Western learning contexts into account. Our effort will assist First Nations students and CDU by giving information about lecturer/institutional cultural competency. Equally important, our project will shine a light on the shared achievements and struggles. It will support reflexive practice for CDU staff.


Dr Tracy Woodroffe

Dr Tracy Woodroffe is a local Warumungu Luritja educator with extensive teaching experience and an Early Career Researcher with a growing track record. Dr Woodroffe is the lead researcher for this two-year project. Her research experience and focus are educational pedagogy, identity, Indigenous perspectives, and the use of Indigenous Knowledge in educational contexts. Dr Woodroffe has been both a team member and the lead CI on numerous successful research projects, which can be seen on her CDU profile. Past research has included research with and within the NT Department of Education.


Woman with black jacket, blonde hair, blue eyes, smiling towards camera

Dr Kate Golebiowska brings more than a decade’s worth of research and engagement with immigrant communities and individuals and a wealth of experience in qualitative research with disadvantaged groups. Until early 2020, Kate had served at the CDU Human Research Ethics Committee for 10+ years.



Alicia Boyle has worked in VET/TAFE and Higher Education, training, management, and research for over 35 years and at CDU since 1999. Mrs Boyle has program and project leadership experience and works extensively in applied research with key interests in education, technology for learning, and workforce development in northern Australia, particularly in regional and remote areas. Most recently she has completed the Barkly Region Workforce Plan, undertaken an evaluation of the Northern Territory’s Local Decision-Making Policy and developed a digital Recognition of Prior Learning platform for Remote Aboriginal Teacher Educators. 



Dr Guzyal Hill was born in Kazakhstan and has a strong understanding of cross-cultural implications in Higher Education. Prior to joining CDU, Guzyal worked as a solicitor and has experience interviewing vulnerable clients. She is a Senior Lecturer in Asia Pacific College of Business and Law, and a founding coordinator of the First Nations Pre-Accounting Enabling Program. She coordinated the First Nations Pre-Law Enabling Program for the 2021 intake.


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