By Sue Berners-Price
A recent national review of Australia’s Research Training System by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) entitled Securing Australia’s Future identified a priority issue to increase participation in Higher Degree Research (HDR) training and improve completion outcomes for Indigenous students. The subsequent Research Training Implementation Plan detailed actions to be taken by key agencies, including ACGR, to address University indigenous strategies and promotion of best practice.
The Australian Council of Graduate Research (ACGR) has worked with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Council (NATSIHEC) to develop the ACGR Good Practice Guidelines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Education. The guidelines should be read in association with the Australian Graduate Research Good Practice Principles, which articulate a set of standards considered to be essential for the delivery of graduate research programs.
The value and potential impact of these guidelines is due to the fact that they were developed by the national peak body of those with institutional responsibility for graduate research provision, with significant collaboration with the national body representing indigenous higher education. They took several iterations and involved a high level of consultation and a genuine will to understand the needs and realise the potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research.
The Key Principle in the ACGR Good Practice Guidelines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Education is stated as follows:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers play a crucial role in advancing an innovative Australian research agenda. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers bring unique knowledges, experiences, identities, strengths that contribute to research that has widespread benefit nationally and internationally. Increasing the cultural capability of universities to provide a policy environment to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers is pivotal for enhancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led research.
The six sub-principles are summarised as follows:
- Establish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research education as a university priority
An explicit policy framework ensures that the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research is recognised across all levels of university governance. Ambitious but realistic targets for recruitment and graduation are set and reported on as part of an adaptive management cycle. The achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR candidates are recognised and celebrated at an institutional level.
- Increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research candidates
A recruitment strategy is developed by engaging with Indigenous alumni, academics, university Indigenous centres, institutions and community groups. The strategy includes: supporting the transition of undergraduates to HDR programs; conducting outreach programs; engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals who are looking for career development and/or change; establishing stipend scholarships that recognise unique needs (e.g. family responsibilities and provision of high value services to Schools/Faculties); establishing flexible entry pathways that include bridging programs and recognize professional practice.
- Provide culturally-competent engagement and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research candidates
Welcoming, supporting and culturally safe environments are provided by developing initiatives that encourage support from families and communities, establishing support networks of senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics within and across institutions and encouraging connections to community mentors, Elders and/or expert cultural knowledge holders. Cohort support is provided at the level of institutions and institutional groupings and candidates are encouraged to join national and international peer networks by promoting support available (e.g. through national programs such as the National Indigenous Research and Knowledge Network (NIRAKN) and the Indigenous Studies Research Network (ISRN)). Mentoring is provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates who seek this within their candidature. Universities adequately invest in research capacity building programs that support successful progression and completion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates.
- Maximise supervision capabilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research candidates
Academic professional development training in Indigenous Research Methodologies is provided to ensure supervisors can effectively supervise both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates or non-Indigenous candidates undertaking Indigenous-related research. The practices of including an appropriately-academically qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander supervisor on supervisory panels and using appropriately-academically qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander examiners are encouraged, wherever appropriate. Peer networks are improved for all supervisors to share learnings and approaches.
- Promote the unique perspectives that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research candidates bring to knowledge
Workshops on Indigenous knowledges and intellectual property are included as part of the academic professional development of all graduate research candidates and supervisors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and global First Nations scholarship is included in relevant coursework subjects. Supervisors are aware of relevant national research ethics guidelines, such as the AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies.
- Prepare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate research candidates for the careers of their choice
Guidance and mentoring is provided for a wide range of careers and practical assistance tailored to individual needs. Internships are facilitated with potential employers and, by working with industry, collaborative career opportunities are developed. Partnerships and collaborative career opportunities for Indigenous graduate research candidates are developed by engaging with industry and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other First Nations community based organisations, where appropriate.
 Cultural competence includes student and staff knowledge and understanding of Indigenous Australian cultures, histories and contemporary realities and awareness of Indigenous protocols, combined with the proficiency to engage and work effectively in Indigenous contexts congruent to the expectations of Indigenous Australian peoples. (see Guiding Principles for Developing Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities, Universities Australia, October, 2011)