Great expectations:  Senior Indigenous leadership positions in higher education

New research led by Western Sydney University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership, Professor Michelle Trudgett, has highlighted some discrepancies in how the skills of Indigenous leaders are interpreted by the higher education sector.  

The research challenges the sector to ensure that Indigenous people become integral architects in designing the future of Australian higher education.

Reporting on findings from an Australian Research Council funded study, Walan Mayiny: Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education, the paper, ‘Great expectations: Senior Indigenous leadership positions in higher education', was co-authored by Professor Susan Page and Stacey Kim Coates from Western Sydney University and published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.

While the wider study also included voices of First Nations senior university executive from Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, the recent publication focused on the functions and responsibilities of senior Indigenous leadership positions through the voices of senior Indigenous leaders; what Vice-Chancellors understand of these roles; and Indigenous academics’ perceptions of the roles.  

The paper notes, ‘these roles should never be viewed as supplementary to other portfolios, but rather core to all components of university business. Emerging and current senior Indigenous leaders are one of the sector’s richest assets, which have tremendous power to challenge how the higher education system in Australia operates. Together, let us continue to ply open the heavy doors that lead to the boardrooms and ultimately, the Vice-Chancellors Office.’

Professor Michelle Trudgett said she hopes the paper makes institutions think deeply about these roles.

“I hope this research will encourage the Australian higher education system to review how it interprets, interacts, and responds to senior Indigenous leadership positions,” said Professor Trudgett.

Some key findings from the paper include:

  • A key challenge linked to senior Indigenous appointments is career progression beyond their Indigenous portfolio.
  • Compellingly, senior Indigenous leaders are required to possess all the attributes expected of other members of senior executive whilst also possessing an additional set of personal and cultural competencies.
  • Some senior executives and Indigenous academics had differing perspectives on the roles of the senior Indigenous leaders.
  • Similarly, many senior executive and Indigenous academics appeared to have minimal understanding of the extensive scope associated with the senior Indigenous leadership positions both within their institution and across the sector more broadly.

Notably, in addition to this paper, there are a further 11 publications associated with this study. A final publication will establish a model of best practice for the inclusivity of Indigenous leadership in higher education governance structure and will include several significant recommendations.


9 December, 2021

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer