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Indigenous university student success in 2013

By Joe Lane - posted Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Federal Education Department statistics just out show that Indigenous university commencements, continuations, enrolments and graduations all hit new record levels in 2013:

  • Commencements: up 7.7 % from 2012, to a record 6,275 students
  • Continuations: up a massive 10.2 % to a record 7,506 students
  • Enrolments: up 9.1 % to a record 13,781 students
  • Graduations: up more than 14 % to a record 1859 graduates.

A full database, going back twenty years, is available at on the Twenty-First Century page.


Analysis of Successes

Commencements [Table 1]

In 2013, commencements in degree-level and post-graduate courses were up 8.9 %, overwhelmingly in mainstream courses. Overall, Indigenous student commencements rose a healthy 7.7 % from 2012, to a total of 6,275, and a very healthy 8.9 % in degree- and post-graduate level commencements, with an extremely healthy rise of 11.9 % in bachelor commencements. In fact, bachelor commencements have almost doubled – 94.1% - since the disastrous years of 2004-5. This has occurred in spite of the trend away from Indigenous-focussed degree enrolments.

About 1.6 % of all Australian domestic commencements were Indigenous in 2013, a record 6,275 students. Of these, nearly a thousand enrolled for the first time in a new post-graduate course (award). About another 1,100 enrolled in a sub-degree or non-award course, such as a Bridging Course. Of the four thousand or so remainder, perhaps five hundred either transferred from one award, or award code, to another, or were on their second or later under-graduate award. So about three and a half thousand Indigenous people enrolled for the first time at universities in 2013 across Australia, almost all at degree-level.

To put these numbers into perspective, one needs to bear in mind that the median age of Indigenous commencing students in 2013 was around 24 or 25 – those equivalent age-groups, born in 1987-1988, numbered around nine to ten thousand, so this is a crude measure of participation: roughly 35-40 % of the equivalent age-group enrolled at universities for the first time in 2013.

19 % of all commencements in 2013 were at post-graduate level, now up to 989 – since 2005, annual post-graduate commencements have risen 92 %. Degree+ commencements have doubled since 2001.


On the other hand, commencements at diploma- and sub-degree-level have declined from around 900 in 1999, to 300 in 2013. Most Indigenous-focussed courses were at these levels. Declines in such commencements may have had a negative impact on male commencements as well.

Trend-line since 2005: an annual increase of 7.8 % p.a.

Continuations [Table 2]

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About the Author

Joe Lane is an independent researcher with a long-standing passion for Indigenous involvement at universities and its potential for liberation. Originally from Sydney, he worked in Indigenous tertiary support systems from 1981 until the mid-90s and gained lifelong inspiration from his late wife Maria, a noted leader in SA Indigenous education.

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