Kenisha Winunguj is far from home, in the remote community of Yirrkala, in eastern Arnhem Land, but is looking forward to starting her freshman year of college in Darwin next year.
âI’m excited and a little nervous,â Ms. Winunguj said.
In 2020, she was one of eight Yirrkala students who became the first in the community to graduate from grade 12 with a higher education admission score.
Since then, Ms. Winunguj and five of these students have participated in a pilot program at Charles Darwin University (CDU) that aimed to assist them in their transition to university by allowing them to study both in the country and on campus in Darwin.
CDU program manager and senior researcher Nicola Rolls said that while entering college can be a stressful time for any new high school graduate, this group of students faces additional hurdles.
“[The students] come from a distinct cultural and linguistic background where English is their additional languageâ¦ this adds another layer to the challenges of reading and writing academic English, âsaid Dr Rolls.
“Being away from a place where they live close to their family and culture is a big change for them.”
The program was conducted in partnership with the Yirrkala-based group, the Djalkiri Foundation and participants were supported by Yolngu mentors.
Djalkiri Foundation CEO Rarrtjiwuy Melanie Herdman said the students studied a range of subjects, including academic language and essay writing.
“[Students could] supporting each other through review writing, research, referencing at Harvard – things we are not exposed to in remote communities, âshe said.
Students who have participated in the program pursue studies in various fields, including law and education.
After participating in the program, Ms. Winunguj said that she plans to become a midwife.
“I would like to come home and work with young mothers [and] help them with their babies, âMs. Winunguj said.
In 2019, the Napthine Higher Education Study found that residents of regional and remote areas of Australia had less than half the chances of obtaining a university degree compared to their urban counterparts.
The review found that the gap was even more pronounced when examining the participation rates of Aboriginal students.
âThe current rates of Aboriginal access and participation in CDU, of approximately 9.9% and 8% respectively, are above the industry average nationally,â said Dr. Rolls.
“However, with the Native population representing 30 percent of the overall NT population, strategies and programs to increase the enrollment and success of Native NT students in higher education are important.”
It is hoped that the pilot project will provide a model for future bridging programs to help increase the number of Indigenous students.