Greater numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should reach senior leadership positions in Australian universities and be involved in leading academic research, incoming University of Canberra chancellor Tom Calma said this week.
From CANBERRA TIMES
The indigenous social justice and health campaigner and 2013 ACT Australian of the Year was appointed on Friday to succeed chancellor Dr John Mackay on January 1, 2014.
Dr Calma said Canberra’s university sector remained concerned about the impact of $2.8billion in federal government cuts to tertiary education and that students could suffer because of the decision.
‘‘It would be denying a fact if I said we were not worried or that the cuts did not mean a challenge,’’ he said.
‘‘What we need to do is protect the teaching of students and make sure they get the full quality of teaching that they deserve.
‘‘If we want to see Australia develop as a knowledge nation, then it is going to develop out of the higher education institutions.’’
At the start of an eight-month leadership handover, Dr Calma said, the University of Canberra was considering how to appropriately deal with the impact of new efficiency dividends of 2 per cent and 1.25 per cent in the coming two years, announced this month by the Gillard government to save about $900million.
The money will fund the Gonski school education reforms, along with commitments from state governments.
An elder of the Kungarakan tribal group and now the university’s deputy chancellor, Dr Calma said he felt privileged to lead the University of Canberra during a time of infrastructure development that will include new health and sports hubs. Involved in tertiary education since 1980, Dr Calma has served as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner and as Race Discrimination Commissioner from 2004 until 2009.
His 2005 Social Justice Report led to the creation of the Close the Gap campaign, a collaboration of more than 40 health and human rights groups working with indigenous Australians.
In March 2010, he was appointed national co-ordinator of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking effort.
Dr Calma said indigenous university enrolment rates had increased in recent years, with notable improvements at the University of Canberra.
‘‘Around the nation we are seeing a lot more indigenous people complete year 12, but they’ve got to also see university as an option,’’ he said.
‘‘One of the biggest challenges within the university sector is to get people to do higher degrees, particularly in research, so they can become academics in the future.’’
Dr Calma said he was proud to be one of a small number of indigenous Australians in senior governance positions in higher education.
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker said Dr Calma had already made a significant contribution to the university.
‘‘Tom Calma has been an insightful and enthusiastic member of our governing council since 2008,’’ Professor Parker said.
‘‘It is great for the university to have an Australian of Tom Calma’s stature as chancellor, and I’m particularly proud that we have appointed one of the nation’s first indigenous chancellors.’’