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Informing key influencers of low SES regional, rural and remote students’ education and career pathways

Sue Kilpatrick, (University of Tasmania [UTAS]), Jess Woodroffe (UTAS), Nicoli Barnes (UTAS), Robin Katersky Barnes (UTAS), Kylie Austin (University of Wollongong [UOW]), Julia Coyle (UOW) and Sarah O’Shea (UOW).

Effective career education is crucial in preparing rural, regional and remote people of all ages for life and work in the increasingly globalised economy. Schools alone are not well equipped to create locally relevant programs that facilitate, promote and enable students to actively understand, negotiate and feel supported in their career and education pathway choices.

This project aims to design, trial and evaluate whole community, place-based, coordinated career and education pathway information and support. It tests a transferable model designed to increase whole community understanding of career and education pathways and resources available to support higher education pathways.

The project will establish career and education pathway working parties in three case study communities in two States, each resourced with a pathway broker. Working parties and communities will be made aware of a suite of programs and interventions found to be successful in informing and influencing key influencers of student pathway choice. Working parties and communities will be assisted through a process led by the researchers to select and/or modify programs and interventions aligned with community needs. These will be trialled and evaluated.

This project addresses the question: How can a whole of community approach best equip key influencers to inform and support rural, regional and remote (RRR) student higher education participation?

We will target key influencers of the two critical prerequisites for student participation in higher education: aspiration for a higher education pathway; and understanding that higher education participation is an attainable, achievable goal (Kilpatrick et al., 2019; James, 2001). Research has established that families, friends, teachers and other school staff, employers, university outreach programs and campus visits are key influencers of RRR low SES student career and education aspirations, as well as of students’ understanding that higher education is attainable. They are therefore key influencers of student education and career pathway choices (Kilpatrick et al., 2019; Woodroffe et al., 2017; Fischer et al., 2019).

A selection of proven interventions will focus on equipping these key influencers to inform student decision making at key or critical stages of the educational decision-making process. Aspirations are typically formed in primary and early secondary years, when parents, families and teachers are key influencers (Naylor et al., 2013). There is evidence that enhancements to school curriculum also influence aspirations (Naylor et al., 2013). Our previous HEPPP funded research has found that teachers feel ill-equipped to give careers advice and welcome the involvement of other stakeholders in raising their own awareness, as well as the knowledge of their students (Woodroffe et al., 2017).

An understanding of the attainability of higher education is essential to convert aspiration to participation for young people in mid to later years of secondary school, and for adults (Kilpatrick et al., 2019). There is strong theoretical evidence for pathway and articulation programs, including from VET, in influencing both aspiration and attainability (Naylor et al., 2013). Employers play a role in influencing employees and other adults in rural communities to upskill for increasingly sophisticated rural jobs (Houghton, 2019). Current major changes to the Tasmanian Year 9-12 curriculum, which aim to embed career planning into the curriculum rather than have it as a separate activity, have also shone light on the need for well-considered career advice from teachers who are not specialist careers teachers (Woodward, pers. com).

This project builds on previous NCSEHE and Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program research projects. A 2018 NCSEHE funded project on rural community influences on higher education participation surveyed 3,180 students from regional and remote home postcodes enrolled in six Australian universities with high proportions of regional students. Results confirmed that family, friends, school staff, and universities are important influencers of rural student aspirations and perceptions of attainability of higher education. Others in the community, employers, industry and local media, also made contributions (Katersky Barnes et al., in press). Case studies carried out as part of that project found that higher education influencers are active across the community. This previous research has combined to suggest that a whole of community approach is likely to be most effective in equipping key influencers to promote and support RRR student higher education participation.

Posted 26 September 2019 Posted in General, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote