Indigenous students progressing into successful business careers can be the enablers and catalysts for economic development in their communities, writes Professor Alec Cameron, Dean of the Australian School of Business.
I recently had the great pleasure to be able to formally welcome students to UNSW for the Indigenous Winter School. The program involves 165 Indigenous students in years 10-12 selected from around Australia, with the objective of encouraging and supporting these students to pursue tertiary education.
The Winter School has a strong track record over the past decade of seeing a high proportion of its students subsequently gaining access to UNSW and other universities, and succeed with their studies.
It has not been the case, to date, that a significant proportion of Indigenous students who gain access to higher education in Australia have chosen to pursue business degrees.
Given that more Australian and international students at Australian universities are pursing business degrees than any other field of study, it is interesting to contemplate why Indigenous students are under-represented in business programs.
I suspect that there are several factors at play here. All Australian universities are keen to address the historical under-representation of Indigenous students in Australian universities. Hence, there is a high level of support, and choice, for those Indigenous students who are admitted to university.
In the same manner as may be anticipated for all students with a high degree of choice, they are most attracted to those programs which are seen as the most prestigious, based on the difficulty in gaining access.
Accordingly, programs in medicine and law have been the destination of choice for many Indigenous students. Social work is another field in which Indigenous students have been better represented.
In all three cases, a sense of addressing social justice for their communities may be a strong personal motivator for students who gain the opportunity to pursue university studies. Business may not be seen to have such high social value.
On the contrary, I believe that a flow of Indigenous students into business programs will play an important role in addressing historical disadvantage for Indigenous communities.
While raising the living standards of Indigenous communities has been one of the most intractable problems of recent Australian public policy, the opportunity for Indigenous people to gain the full benefits from participation in modern Australian society requires business and employment opportunities.
Indigenous students progressing into successful business careers can be the enablers and catalysts for economic development in Indigenous communities, which provides the sustainable opportunity for our Indigenous people to fully benefit from Australia's high living standards.
While we should take great pride in seeing Indigenous students graduate to successful careers in medicine and law, I look forward to the day when we will be able to identify Indigenous business leaders creating wealth, for themselves, their businesses, their communities and our nation.
A version of this opinion piece appeared in the Australian Financial Review.