Aspiration, achievement and access: The ACT-Indigenous Success pathway to university

lcj 17 cover.jpgMichele J. Fleming & Diana M. Grace

LCJ: Special Edition: Indigenous Pathways and Transitions into Higher Education, 17, pp. 74-83

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Fleming, M.J., & Grace, D.M. (2015). Aspiration, achievement and access: The ACT-Indigenous Success pathway to university. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Indigenous Pathways and Transitions into Higher Education], 17, 74-83. DOI:



Historically the preserve of the elite, higher education around the world remains dominated by students from middle and upper classes (Gale, Tranter, Bills, Hattam & Comber, 2010). In recent decades, numerous equity initiatives have targeted specific groups with some degrees of success. The Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent & Scales, 2008) identified the three most disadvantaged groups in Australian higher education. These are Indigenous Australians, students from rural and remote areas, and those from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. Moreover, they remain the three groups that have shown the least improvement in participation rates (Centre for the Study of Higher Education, 2008; Gale et al., 2010). 

Given the high proportion of the rural and remote population who are also Indigenous (Baxter, Gray & Hayes, 2011), and the high numbers of Indigenous people who are also socioeconomically disadvantaged (Hunter, 1996), it is not surprising that the Behrendt Review (Behrendt, Larkin, Griew & Kelly, 2012) revealed a continuation of lower participation and completion rates by Indigenous students in higher education. 

At all levels of study there is huge disparity between the numbers of Indigenous students participating (Barney, 2013; Pechenkina, Kowal & Paradies, 2011) both compared to the Indigenous population as a whole, and to other under-represented groups. While Indigenous university students are typically older than their non-Indigenous peers (Pechenkina & Anderson, 2011), the numbers of Indigenous students entering university directly from school remain low in part due to inadequate preparation (Anderson & Potok, 2010) and high dropout rates during high school (Helme & Lamb, 2011). Thus, in specifically targeting aspirations for higher education and the transition from high school to university, the University of Canberra has developed a program for Indigenous students – the ACT-Indigenous Success (ACT-IS) program. The development of this program and the lessons learned are the focus of this paper.


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