Connection and inclusion vital for regional and remote students’ mental wellbeing
Mature-aged regional and remote students need to feel connected, appreciated and supported in their everyday learning experiences to enhance their mental wellbeing and academic success, new research has shown.
The report by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellow Dr Nicole Crawford identifies proactive approaches and inclusive strategies for effective learning and teaching to counter common stressors and support students’ mental wellbeing.
“Mature-age students bring unique strengths and experiences, but often face competing commitments and stressors which can compromise their mental wellbeing and academic success,” Dr Crawford said.
“To provide effective support, we must understand, and respond to, students’ complex circumstances.”
Approximately 1,800 student participants, from all states and territories, were involved in the year-long Fellowship, building a clearer picture of mature-age students in, and from, regional and remote Australia.
The findings highlight the diversity of this cohort and the ways demographic characteristics, equity group and equity-like group membership, and study experiences can intersect.
“A major theme emerging in the survey and subsequent interviews was the importance of the teaching and learning experience; that is, students’ everyday interactions with the curriculum, staff and peers, and the learning environment,” Dr Crawford said.
“The participants in this study did not request ‘feel-good’ initiatives, nor did they expect technological wizardry. They wanted ‘the basics’ to be done well; notably, effective communication, inclusive practices and course design, clear expectations around study load, relevant assessments, and a focus on online delivery.”
Access to technology and the internet was identified as a common challenge for students studying online in regional and remote Australia, while access to physical study facilities such as Regional University Centres (RUCs) enhanced their general wellbeing and academic success.
Guidelines that include proactive approaches for academic and professional staff are outlined in Dr Crawford’s final report, as are recommendations to ensure the institution-wide take up of these ideas.
“Mental wellbeing is far more than an individual student’s ‘problem’ or the sole responsibility of student support services; it must be considered at all layers and levels in the university ecosystem,” Dr Crawford said.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sarah O’Shea emphasised the universal and timely application of the research, which has relevance for all students, educators, and universities.
“Interim findings from Dr Crawford’s Equity Fellowship have been an essential resource in the universal shift to online delivery during COVID-19,” Professor O’Shea said.
“In the longer term, Dr Crawford’s recommendations and guidelines have the potential to benefit all students in higher education, particularly individuals from disadvantaged or ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds.”
Dr Crawford’s Equity Fellowship was supported by the University of Tasmania and conducted under the NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
The final report, On the radar: Supporting the mental wellbeing of mature-aged students in regional and remote Australia, is available here.
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