News & Events

Geographic location a significant predictor of students’ intentions to attend university

New research funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University and led by Dr Grant Cooper from RMIT University shows that students from regional and remote areas are significantly less likely to report an intent to study at university when compared to students in metropolitan areas.

Data analysis indicates geographic location is a predictor of students’ intentions to attend university, net of selected demographic and socio-economic variables. This report applies statistical modelling and geo-mapping to existing data, contributing to current literature as well as indicating an ongoing advancement from discrete categorisation to continuous measures of students’ distance from higher education providers.

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

Grant Cooper, James Baglin and Rob Strathdee


We know that geographic location matters in relation to participation in higher education. Both the 2008 Bradley Review (Commonwealth of Australia) and the 2010 Inquiry into the Extent and Nature of Disadvantage and Inequity in Rural and Regional Victoria (Victoria Parliament Rural and Regional Committee), observed that regional students were under-represented in higher education when compared to their urban peers. Indeed, data from the Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations in 2010 shows that the participation rates of students from regional and remote areas actually deteriorated between 2005 and 2010.

While we know that geography is linked to disadvantage, we do not fully understand the processes through which this disadvantage arises. The reasons for the differences in participation highlighted in both the Bradley Review and the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry varied pointing to a complexity of factors, operating in interconnected ways. Context is critical. For example, Alloway and Dalley-Trim reported that while youth living in rural areas were commonly interested in pursuing higher education following completion of secondary school, barriers to participation limited their propensity to act on this interest. The barriers include attachment to home, desire to remain close to family and friends and the cost of studying away from home. In a similar refrain, Marks et al. found attitudes, motivations and aspirations as important influences in the decision to attend university. These non-cognitive dispositions towards participating in university are developed and influenced by local social and cultural networks and values.

In part, the lower aspirations that are identified in some of the research as a barrier to participation could be a result of regional and remote students (and/or their teachers) understanding the difficulties they face attending higher education and, as a result, lowering their expectations of achievement. Whatever the case, the evidence is conclusive: students living in regional and remote areas perform less well in secondary education and, even after accounting for this lower success in school, they are less likely to progress to university than their metropolitan peers.

As noted above, one challenge in identifying the mechanisms through which this disadvantage develops is that the barriers to progression are likely to vary, and they are likely to change over time and space. In this respect, we know from research in vocational education in Australia that some groups of people suffer from multiple barriers to progression in education and the labour market. McVicar and Tabasso’s research addresses the accumulative effect of students from poorer backgrounds, and from regional areas, and a non-dominant ethnicity that helps explain their difficulties progressing in VET. James at al. and Parker et al. noted that similar observations apply to participation in higher education.


This report aims to assess if geographical location and other background factors linked to achievement (such as socio-economic status [SES]) predict students’ intentions to enrol in higher education.

The research attempts to answer two key questions:

  • Is distance from a university, net of other factors, a predictor of students’ intentions to attend university?
  • What are the implications of this study in relation to policies regarding the presence of regional universities in Australia?

Read more here.

Media release.


Posted 15 February 2017 Posted in General, Regional, rural and remote