Best practice Indigenous studies and Indigenous perspectives in higher education


Earlier this month I was invited to participate in a ThinkTank/Conversation at at the University of New South Wales – Art and Design campus at Paddington, Sydney. We were asked to respond to the question:

What does or what can the visibility of Indigenous perspectives in Australian tertiary institutions look like?

Best practice Indigenous Studies and Indigenous perspectives in higher education

I responded by outlining what I think best practice in Indigenous Studies and Indigenous perspective looks like. My list is borne from my experience as a Murri student (in the 1990s), a former academic (within a school), a former research assistant working within an Indigenous Studies program, a parent of university students. I know that a number of institutions already do some of the things on my list (and UNSW Art and Design may also). As I flew home, I wondered, what does a primary and second school version of this list look like. 


The work of Indigenous scholars has moved our thinking about Indigenous perspectives over the last three decades. No longer is simply teaching facts “about” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and cultures adequate in education. Indigenous scholars from a range of disciplines, have called for much deeper interrogation into the way in which White Privilege and White Supremacy permeates our knowledge about the world, as well as the ways in which we move through the world. These ideas translate across disciplines, including across law, education, creative arts, science and health and technology.

Unfortunately, rather than non-Indigenous educators joining Indigenous scholars on this journey, and engaging with their work, there are many who are stuck in the past, unable to grasp the intricacies of modern day Indigenous scholarship. This happens in all disciplines and in many institutions across the continent.

Indigenous perspectives should be the foundation stone of most, if not all, higher education courses in Australia. An institution that operates at best practice should have Indigenous perspectives at every level of its operation. What would this look like in reality for an art and design school?

The following strategies would indicate best practice:

  1. Units should include a compulsory Indigenous perspectives unit delivered to all graduates of UNSW Australia: Art & Design. The unit should be designed and delivered by Indigenous academics. Subject matter should include, Copyright and Cultural Intellectual Property and Appropriation of Indigenous iconography (Note: Griffith University – Queensland College of Art includes a compulsory Indigenous Art, Protocols and Practices to all QCA students).
    There should be an Indigenous Art/Indigenous Studies major offered to students. Another option would be to develop a number of units that are offered at UNSW Australia: Art & Design, that were part of a whole UNSW Australia Indigenous Studies major.
  2. All units delivered within the school should be audited for their inclusion of Indigenous perspectives. Where there are deficits, Indigenous academics should be bought in to consult.
    A professional qualification should be developed (for example a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Studies) specifically targeting non-Indigenous academics. (This would sit well beside current initiatives that see new academics being required to undertake an educational qualification)
  3. As part of UNSW Australia’s commitment to Indigenous students, a strong, vibrant and well-resourced Indigenous Support Student program is essential.
  4. A strong UNSW Australia: Art & Design Indigenous post-graduate program is vital. By building a strong post-graduate program on campus, the institution is ensuring strong scholarly outcomes, as well as providing the expertise to deliver strong Indigenous Studies programs in the future.
  5. An audit of the institutions library collection should be done regularly, to ensure that students have access to the most recent Indigenous scholarship from around the country and the world. It should be noted, that Indigenous Studies is highly inter-disciplinary, as a result the Art & Design library may need to bring in texts from outside Art & Design.
  6. Creation of a strong academic-in-residence and/or artist-in-residence program that fosters links between UNSW Australia: Art & Design, with other institutions around Australia, Indigenous scholars within Australia, and Indigenous scholars from around the world.
  7. The institution’s leadership should include Indigenous representatives at every level and across all operations.


Much of the work that is done by Indigenous scholars is based around personal relationships built over many years. Often institutions do not see the value that an individual Indigenous staff member (academic and/or general staff) can bring to the institution. Indigenous staff members are often marginalised by their institution as their journey to the institution may not fit within the traditional career path of other staff. However, when needed their expertise and knowledge is called upon, with little acknowledgement or recognition. Indigenous staff will have a cultural capital that is undervalued and un-recognised by their non-Indigenous colleagues.
Indigenous perspectives within tertiary institutions can be ground-breaking, but too often institutional politics and White Privilege get in the way.

Am I missing anything? How could this list be adapted from primary and secondary schools?