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Access to higher education: Does distance impact students’ intentions to attend university?

The 2008 Bradley Review of Higher Education stated that regional students are under-represented in higher education when compared to their urban peers. Reasons for this disparity have been debated in Australian higher education research and include:

  • the distance from home to university
  • attachment to their home, family and friends, for students who would have to relocate to attend university
  • the cost of higher education and students’ finances in general
  • low aspirations and limited knowledge about university, and
  • low academic achievement.

A new research study, led by Professor Rob Strathdee from RMIT University, is looking to determine if distance is a related to students’ intention to study at university, net of all other measured factors.

“Distance from university may be a barrier for regional students by virtue of relocation costs, travel and other social factors,” said Professor Strathdee.

“However, it is also important to uncover the psycho-social determinants of students’ intentions to attend university, as the literature suggests that behavioural intention is a reliable indicator of future behaviour.”

“Just because you live quite a distance away from a university, doesn’t mean you won’t still enrol.”

Working with RMIT colleague, Mr Grant Cooper, Professor Strathdee’s project will lead to the generation of a new model variable, the Nearest University Measure (NUM).

“Using web-mapping software in Google Maps, and calculated using students’ school locations in relation to the nearest university, we will be able to attribute a NUM measure to students from 74 schools across Victoria.”

“Using the NUM measure in conjunction with Hierarchical Linear Modelling and Ajzen’s (2005) Theory of Planned Behaviour, will allow us to identify if distance to university is in fact the key determinant in students’ higher education decision-making process.”

“Given the investment in regional universities in Australia, and the ongoing competition for public funding, it will be incredibly advantageous to discern if distance matters to university enrolments.”

“If distance doesn’t actually matter, what does? That is the next question. On the other hand, if distance is the most pressing factor, how far is too far? Where should universities be in order to maximise the likelihood of rural, regional and remote students enrolling? These are some of the questions we’re asking.”

Professor Strathdee’s project has been funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education via the 2016 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program. The project will conclude in December 2016, after which time the reports and papers will be made available here on the NCSEHE website.

ABOUT PROFESSOR ROB STRATHDEE
Professor Rob Strathdee’s research draws upon critical theories of the relationship between education, employment and the re/production of inequality. He has published the outcomes of his qualitative and quantitative research in top outlets. Early research explored the effects of school choice policies on inequality in New Zealand. This work was published in the widely cited book, Trading in Futures. Subsequent research on transitions to work discovered how processes of social reproduction were affected by educational policy. A book-length study was published in 2008. Recent quantitative work with the New Zealand Ministry of Education datasets, has explored the transitions from education into work & further study.

ABOUT MR GRANT COOPER
Mr Grant Cooper completed a 1st class Honours degree in 2012 with research examining the application and efficacy of the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) to explain and predict the future behaviours of pre-service teachers related to Science teaching pedagogies. This research was subsequently published in the International Journal of Science Education. Currently working toward a Doctorate, Grant’s PhD evolved from his Honours research, investigating students’ intentions to attend university using an extended TPB model.


The final report can be viewed here.

Posted 10 May 2016 Posted in General, Regional