The importance of an Indigenous presence in tertiary education

Joshua Preece is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer of the National Union of Students. As a student of the University of Queensland, Preece stresses the need to maintain an Indigenous presence in Australia’s universities.

Aboriginal flag

Founded in 1850, the University of Sydney celebrated the success of its first Indigenous graduate in 1966, a young man named Charlie Perkins. It cannot be debated that century is an awfully long time for Australia’s first people to have been absent from higher education institutions. Although it’s likely unanimously agreed that we need to see more Indigenous students in universities, we don’t often seem to pause and ponder upon why it’s important.

When examining the gap in Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes, difference in income is a significant factor. This is because better health and education outcomes are difficult to achieve for those with low-paying jobs, or for those who rely on welfare.

Encouragingly, census analyses have shown that this disparity is almost undetectable when comparing an Indigenous university graduate to a non-Indigenous graduate. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s assertion that an investment in knowledge pays the highest returns. It excites me that with continued government investment in Indigenous higher education and adequate support mechanisms, we could slowly see this infamous gap closed.

I encourage every Indigenous student to become involved with your Indigenous student association, Wirriga, and support your SRC Indigenous office bearers. In spite of our various historical disadvantages, we are now able to study at university thanks to the hard work of generations who came before us. I am of the firm view that it is our responsibility as Indigenous students to build strong Indigenous networks on campus and support each other’s aspirations. Apathy from anyone’s viewpoint is dangerous, because Indigenous progress isn’t guaranteed without hard work and conscious commitment to the success of all of Australia’s people. Today, I can say that there has probably never been a better time to be an Indigenous university student – we owe it to future students to ensure that they can say the same.