Remote student insights reveal unique attributes and support requirements
Remote students are among the most educationally disadvantaged in Australia with complex support requirements, distinct from their regional and metropolitan peers, according to new research.
A child born in remote Australia is one third as likely to go to university as a child born in a major city and, while remote students commonly exhibit talent and a determination to succeed, completion rates remain comparatively low. The report by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellow Louise Pollard (The University of Western Australia) calls for universities and government to develop a nuanced understanding of this cohort to enable more remote students to realise their potential.
“This study showed the profile of remote students varied considerably from regional and metropolitan students, both in terms of enrolment characteristics and equity group membership, with many remote students experiencing the compounding disadvantage of belonging to more than one equity group,” Ms Pollard said.
“Remote students should be recognised as a distinct equity group, with government funding directed toward attracting and retaining this cohort.”
The research challenges a commonly held assumption that remote students are predominantly relocating school-leavers who have traditionally been the primary focus of policy and practice.
“The online student cohort continues to grow, requiring appropriate support to achieve success; there is scope for universities to adapt support programs and teaching practices to enhance the university experiences of both groups of remote students,” Ms Pollard said.
Recommendations for universities and government to more effectively support remote students were informed by data analysis; university case studies; student and staff interviews; examination of institutional strategies; literature review; and a study tour of Canadian universities.
“Good practice is present in universities across Australia, but improvements can be made. A responsive, student-centred approach to learning and teaching strategies, designed with the complex needs of remote students as its focus, would also meet support needs across the student population,” Ms Pollard said.
The implementation of a universal student indicator was also recommended, to enable more tailored support for remote students and allow better data analysis and linkage across different Commonwealth departments and systems.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad reinforced the importance of understanding the demographic of the regional student cohort as a foundation for providing appropriate support measures.
“Ms Pollard has identified unique attributes of the remote student group and highlighted the unique challenges they face, both in relocating to university and studying remotely,” Professor Trinidad said.
“This has implications for policy, practice and research and is an important step in refining existing measures to enhance regional students’ success.”
The report, Remote Student University Success: An Analysis of Policy and Practice is accessible here.
The Equity Fellows Program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.
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