The University of Newcastle’s commitment to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff has been officially recognised, with the University being named the first university in Australia to receive a Cygnet Award for Indigenous Cultural Competency.
To achieve a Cygnet Award from Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), organisations must demonstrate their actions to removing or reducing barriers to gender equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Vice-Chancellor Professor, Alex Zelinsky AO said the award for Indigenous Cultural Competency was particularly important given the University’s position as a leader in Indigenous student enrolments and pathways.
“Our University is a national leader in educating First Nations students. We have more Indigenous students enrolled with us than any other University in the country and we know they go on to achieve great things,” Alex said.
The Cygnet Award comes at a poignant time in Australia’s history.
“We know a lot of our First Nations students and staff are hurting following the referendum outcome.
“As an institution, we are committed to reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and we see the important role we play as educators and as an employer.
“We want to make sure that opportunities for Indigenous Australians are applied to a whole-of-life approach, whereby we close the gap in disadvantage and provide the best possible outcomes for all students, staff and the wider community.”
“We have a comprehensive range of programs that support our First Nations students and staff, including targeted recruitment, Indigenous Cadetships to assist Indigenous students with paid work experience that is relevant to their studies and career aspirations, and support for Indigenous academics to complete Higher Degree by Research.”
The University also provides training for all staff to ensure they are culturally competent. The training sees University employees undertake online training modules, a three-hour face-to-face session and a half or full day On-Country experience.
University of Newcastle Cultural Capability Partner, Jake MacDonald explained the training aimed to increase the sense of cultural safety and belonging amongst Indigenous students and staff.
The training also builds the cultural capability of students and staff to understand Indigenous culture and history; and address contemporary issues.
“Our Cultural Capability training allows staff to be more informed, moving from culturally aware toward being culturally responsive. The training is a vital step that has helped create a safe and supportive environment for Indigenous Australians to both work and study at our University,” Jake said.
“We are proud that more than 75 per cent of our staff have now undertaken their Indigenous Cultural Capability training and nearly 100 per cent of staff surveyed afterwards said they had learnt something new and that they would recommend the training to others. Our goal is to have 100 per cent of our staff complete this training by 2025.
“Closing the Gap and addressing the inequities Indigenous Australians experience requires a proactive and consistent effort. Our commitment to our First Nations people remains ongoing and the award of the Cygnet for Indigenous Cultural Competency is recognition that as a university, we are on the right path to reconciliation.”
The Cygnet comes as the University reached several important milestones including this year celebrating 40 years of the Wollotuka Institute, an all-Indigenous staffed Institute that supports Indigenous students with their study.
The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) award is the third Cygnet award for the University, making it the first university in the country to receive three Cygnets. The first two Cygnet Awards recognised the University’s commitment to addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM and improving career development support for women.
Athena Swan accreditation is the only internationally recognised framework for gender equity, diversity and inclusion, with Cygnets awarded to organisations that can demonstrate they have achieved sufficient progress and impact in removing or reducing a key barrier to equality.
IMAGE | University of Newcastle staff undertaking Cultural Capability training.
The University of Newcastle is ranked in the top 3% of universities in the world according to two global independent ranking systems, and in the top 200 universities in the world for medicine.