A national review of higher education’s role in improving the lives of indigenous Australians is expected to kick off soon with a call for formal submissions. Professor Larissa Behrendt, chair of the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, presented a public outline of the review last week. She said among other things, it would consider the current funding framework for meeting participation targets set out in the Bradley Review of higher education.“When I was approached to do the review, it was prefaced on the idea that the government was reflecting on the way it is putting a lot of money into the sector, [but] doesn’t seem to be getting huge results,” Behrendt told delegates at a Regional Tertiary Education Conference in Coffs Harbour. “So this underlying question of whether the funding formula is right is certainly something that’s open to thinking about.”However, she said, in devising a path to parity for indigenous students, researchers and academic and non-academic staff, other considerations were just as important. “We’re very mindful of a strong view from indigenous communities that we shouldn’t just be looking at this as a simple close-the-gap exercise…” Behrendt said.“It’s also about the creation of space for indigenous culture and vibrant indigenous community.” She said the review also would make recommendations on the place of indigenous knowledge within the higher education sector. Without these wider goals, it could be perceived as simply “running an assimilation line”.Behrendt, a professor of law and indigenous studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, shared statistics with delegates that showed indigenous Australians were far from achieving national targets. “The gap’s actually been widening in the higher education sector,” she said. “The numbers have been increasing in actual figures, but as a percentage, they’re less.”The role of regional universities as enabling pathways to higher education also would form part of her review, which is due to report to tertiary education minister Chris Evans and research minister Kim Carr at the beginning of 2012. The Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council, a government advisory panel of senior indigenous academics, is a key stakeholder that has had much input into the review’s framework. The council’s chair, Professor Steve Larkin, also sits on the review panel. Behrendt said universities, but not the TAFE and VET sectors, would be included in the review, which is expected to set its own participation targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “We are looking at the fact that improving higher education outcomes will have improvements for indigenous people and their families and their communities, as well as benefits for higher education institutions themselves, as well as implications for the economy. There’s also, of course, the social and cultural argument about the flow on effects of improving the statistics within the higher education sector,” she said. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) announced the review in April, with a call for submissions originally slated for June. At the Coffs conference, Behrendt said she expected the call for submissions to be announced imminently. However, DEEWR could not confirm a date.