Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Students’ Success in Higher Education: The Role of Relational Factors

Karen Pinder Klemenchic

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This research explores relational factors that contribute to the retention and completion rates in higher education for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students at Charles Sturt University. Currently, these rates are lower than those of non-Indigenous student populations, which can be attributed to colonisation policies and practices that have excluded First Nations Peoples and created inequalities in education. Preceding governments have generated significant disadvantages for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples across a wide range of socioeconomic domains, including education. To add to that disadvantage, research about First Nations students has historically been dominated by non-Indigenous researchers, for this study, any gap in understanding is addressed through the incorporation of my own Wiradyuri Aboriginal lens, as well as other Indigenous perspectives and worldviews. The research is undertaken within an emerging Indigenous paradigm, which emphasises valuing Indigenous relationships through ways of knowing, being, and doing and providing a platform for engagement with previously unrepresented voices. In this way, the research recognises the value of understanding knowledge as being relational and as attained through a shared engagement, rather than applying traditional Western values of knowledge as coming from an individual source.
It is critical to note that culture and knowledge have a shared value in our community, for this reason, the Virtual Yarning Circle with Indigenous students used in this study was designed in a culturally safe way, even during a pandemic-influenced environment, to capture the knowledge and information that became the foundation for this thesis. The methodology involved a mixed-methods approach that incorporated the gathering of qualitative, rich data, which was interpreted through an Indigenous research paradigm regarding relationality. That is, conversations were explored and analysed from an Indigenous worldview which privileges the stories and experiences of everyone from within a specific space. In addition, findings from the conversations as part of the Yarning have been interpreted through Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing through practices of connectivity between the researcher and the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students’ experiences, while providing cultural safety (Rochecouste et al., 2000). This allowed students autonomous decision-making over the engagement process, and ultimately over the outcomes of the research project.
Quantitative data on student engagement was also used in this study, based on archival/ demographic information. This information was analysed to identify broader patterns, for example, whether students were first- or second-generation students, and what the findings about this mean for future engagement with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students. Data from both the qualitative and quantitative (Tenny et al.,2022), aspects of this study were integrated to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue of student engagement and completion. Integrating Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students’ voice in this study was done to emphasise that they have the knowledge and the greatest awareness of the realities of issues that impact them. Through valuing Indigenous knowledges and culture, from the perspective of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students’ lived experiences, self-determination becomes more meaningful through shared stories from the Yarning Circle. The Yarning Circle activity aligned with the following quote from Rigney (2006, p. 32): “Issues of ownership of knowledge in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander research can only be resolved when the power of decision making and self-determination is held by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and/or organizations”.
Original languageMultiple languages
QualificationDoctor of Social Work
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Mlcek, Susan, Principal Supervisor
  • Bell, Karen, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2023


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