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Four barriers to higher education regional students face – and how to overcome them

Written by Matt Brett (La Trobe University), Alison Sheridan (University of New England), Andrew Harvey (La Trobe University) and Buly Cardak (La Trobe University) for The Conversation

Regional students face major challenges studying in higher education. While over the past five years overall numbers have increased, regional students remain underrepresented in Australian universities.

So why is it so tough for regional students? What are the main obstacles and how can we tackle these issues?

Here’s what the research tells us:

Smaller campuses and less choice

Regional universities have been established to bring higher education to regional Australia, recognising the importance of local delivery.

While regional universities maintain high levels of student satisfaction and strong employment outcomes, regional campuses servicing smaller population catchments cannot offer the breadth of courses that are available in major cities.

Getting those regional school leavers with high grades to stay in regional areas is also a challenge. These students tend to move to the city to pursue courses with entry cut-offs that match their ATAR grade. Greater competition for courses in major cities generally results in higher thresholds for entry.

Cost of living

Even when a campus is nearby, many students will need to relocate, commute long distances, or undertake distance education to access their course of choice.

Distance education has always played a role in regional higher education, but recent work highlights that students who study online are less likely to complete their degrees.

For those who relocate, cost-of-living expenses are a major barrier and are shouldered by communities where wages are on average lower and capacity to pay is constrained.

As a guide to what these living costs are, the Australian government requires international students to demonstrate funds of around $18,600 per year to meet costs of living.

For Australian students over the age of 18 who live away from home, the full rate of Youth Allowance paid is around $426 per fortnight, equating to $11,000 per year. This amount begins to taper when annual parental income exceeds around $51,000.

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Posted 28 October 2015 Posted in Editorial, General, Regional, rural and remote