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Advance Queensland announces funding for Indigenous researchers

The state government has announced two landmark funding programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) researchers as part of the newly launched Advance Queensland (AQ) initiative.

The Minister for Science and Innovation Leeanne Enoch announced both the ATSI PhD Scholarship and ATSI Research Fellowship programs in Cairns last week, as part of a regional Queensland tour that saw Enoch visit a number of Aboriginal communities and conduct AQ forums.

I was absolutely delighted to launch two programs to target the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers,” Enoch said. “Both programs are designed to deliver a clear pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to pursue their ideas, collaborate more closely with industry and business, and bring significant benefits to the Queensland economy.”

Following similar announcements such as the AQ Women’s Academic Fund, these two programs will hopefully see an increase in the representation of ATSI researchers throughout Queensland. The programs come when the majority of our nationwide “Closing the Gap” education targets have not been/are not on track to be met, and the country has seen a decline in employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians since the 2008 baseline.

The PhD Scholarship program will provide up to $120,000 over three years for ATSI scholars to undertake an applied PhD research project, in collaboration with an industry or end-user organisation. Likewise, the Research Fellowships will provide $240,000 per fellowship over three years for post-doctoral research.

As part of their application, candidates must adhere to the government’s science and research priorities, which include renewable energy development, protecting biodiversity and heritage, and ensuring the sustainability of physical and digital infrastructure for research i.e. for “big data”. The closing date for applications is 5pm Friday October 30th, and other requirements, such as sponsorship and industry collaboration, can be found here.

 It’s heartening to see programs aimed at ATSI scholars, but there’s obviously a lot more to be done to increase representation across the board (to say nothing of including ASTI educators or the history of ATSI scientific achievements within our existing curriculum).

According to the Closing the Gap report, there has been no overall improvement in Indigenous reading and numeracy since 2008, and, while the AQ funding and support programs have thus far been focused on tertiary-level students and established businesses, there is definitely room for programs aimed at younger ATSI students within the AQ portfolio. Specifically, the government has flagged a future schools review of STEM, to be led by the Department of Education.

A potential template can be found in a similar ATSI-focused program launched last year: backed by the CSIRO and BHP Billiton, the $28.8 million, five-year STEM initiative included education programs, mentoring, summer schools, excellence awards and university degrees.

While any similar AQ programs would likely take longer to implement than the research programs, the focus on ATSI students will hopefully extend into any education reforms.

The research programs are a good start, now let’s see how AQ lives up to its perception as a holistic job creator.

Photo: Advance Queensland.

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.