NPP Projects

Enhancing Aspirations for STEM Careers in Rural, Regional and Remote Communities

Lead University: University of Canberra

Lead Researcher: Philip Roberts

Research Team: Philip Roberts

Year Funded: 2016

Funding Received: $65,000


This project investigated regional student aspirations for regional careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and how this influenced senior subject selection and, in turn, university entry. Literature review and analysis of data from surveys and focus groups—including stakeholders in regional and remote education, industry and community—provided insights which have been communicated to universities and schools.

Project outline

  • The project investigated aspirations for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, incorporating stakeholders in education, industry and community in regional and remote areas of Australia.
  • The project had three objectives:
    1. Increase the knowledge base in relation to STEM in regional careers and innovation.
    2. Understand how regional students’ aspirations for regional STEM careers influence senior subject selection (which, in turn, influence university entry).
    3. Provide insights for universities to embed relevant curriculum links to regional STEM careers and innovation to increase the relevance of university study.
  • Following literature surveys, the project had several components:
    • A student survey yielding 76 student responses and 36 responses from family and community.
    • An industry survey receiving 65 responses.
    • A survey data analysis.
    • Focus groups for students and industry participants.
      • Student and local industry focus groups were completed in six locations in New South Wales; two in Queensland; two in Victoria, two in South Australia; two in Western Australia; and one in the Northern Territory.
      • A total of 336 students participated in the focus groups.

Key findings

  • Findings from survey analysis:
    • Peak industry representatives:
      • Technology is central to industries’ futures.
      • Schools should be focusing on integrated technology skills, not “subjects of yesterday”.
      • Not enough students have an interest in the agriculture sector.
    • Students:
      • Student career decisions are more influenced by family and friends than teachers.
      • Students have very limited knowledge of local industries.
      • Students have very limited knowledge of the relationship between school subjects and careers in the broadly defined agriculture sector.
    • Peak industry stakeholders:
      • Technology in the agriculture industry chain is the key to future development.
      • There is a lack of skills and training in technology sectors.
      • Industry growth is being limited by lack of technology knowledge.
      • Industry doesn’t know or understand school subject links.
    • Findings from focus group research:
      • Students:
        • Students that were considering university had chosen a subject pathway.
        • Students not considering university did not see the relevance of specific subjects to local industry and careers.
        • Students who were considering university did not have a clear understanding of the broadly defined agricultural sector links of their subjects.
      • Local industry outcomes:
        • Local industry is more focused on the community and community integration than technology.
        • Local industry has more immediate, and less skilled, workforce concerns than peak industry.
      • Other project outcomes:
        • The project identified what the project managers called a “language gap” regarding school subjects between teachers and students who are intending to pursue university study.
        • Students who are not intending to pursue university education and who generally intend to work locally do not have the language to discuss their possible careers with their teachers.
        • Peak industry bodies were solely focused on “AgTech” as the future of the sectors production chains. These bodies were not clear on what school subjects were beyond an abstract sense of STEM but were more focused on application and integration of technology skills.
        • Local industry groups were more concerned with general workforce demands than big vision “AgTech” futures. They were not clear on school subject links.
  • Outputs:
    • Project managers are working more closely with widening participation teams to share insights gained.
    • Project managers are also working with a number of schools to explore school-community-industry links in the curriculum.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.

Posted 15 October 2018