Regional Student Financial Circumstances at the University of South Australia
Lead University: University of South Australia
Lead Researcher: Judy Nagy
Research Team: Judy Nagy, Alice Lee and Charmaine Graham
Year Funded: 2014
Funding Received: $168,422
This project examined the financial circumstances and associated psychosocial factors of regional students in higher education. Qualitative and quantitative data was gathered through 607 surveys and 37 extensive interviews, to provide insight into the difficulties faced by regional students nationally. The resulting multi-layered dataset allowed for a thorough analysis of regional students financial, psychological and social situations based on demographic groupings of age and relocation status.
- There is limited evidence about the financial circumstances of regional students in higher education and the factors and circumstances behind them. The project focused on the University of South Australia (UniSA), to explore these issues in depth.
- Surveys and extensive interviews were employed to accumulate quantitative and qualitative data and information.
- One of the key contributions of this research has been the provision of multi-layered data that investigates a range of monetary and non-monetary consequences that engaging in higher education has for regional students.
- Policies that are specific to a target group can be more effectively constructed and are more likely to achieve desired outcomes. The most significant support mechanisms provided by government for students are Youth Allowance and Austudy. The focus of this study was to follow age-related qualifiers of those schemes and analyse student circumstances in four sub-groups: those aged under 25 who had relocated or not relocated; those aged 25 and over who had relocated or not relocated.
- Students aged under 25
- Analysis showed that 82 per cent of students aged under 25 had relocated to undertake higher education. They were mainly single, with no children, and 46.7 per cent were receiving Youth Allowance.
- Over 30 per cent of under 25 years old that had relocated were not eligible to receive government allowance due to parental income. Evidence indicated that the continuing dependency on family caused many students to experience financial and emotional stress.
- The process of leaving regional towns to study in a city with a different cultural milieu, the need to learn new life skills, and developing independence became challenges as students disconnected from family support structures. The emergence of the time and expense of travel was significant and difficult to quantify.
- Relocating students also reported difficulty in finding employment, adding further financial stress. Many students on Dependent Youth Allowance were unable to meet basic living costs.
- Students aged 25 and over
- Only 10.8 per cent of the 25 and over age group had relocated for study, with the same percentage receiving Austudy or Abstudy. The older demographic reported that 64.5 per cent had carer responsibilities; 73.2 per cent cohabited with income levels that precluded qualification for government support; and 46.1 per cent of students studied part-time.
- Those in the 25 and over group generally reported being more stressed than their younger counterparts. Travel issues associated with the use of blended learning outcomes was a contributing stress factor. Travel to compulsory workshops can involve significant financial outlays which can include childcare, accommodation costs and out of home living expenses.
- Mapping regionality over time is complicated due to inconsistencies in data, with changing classifications and new areas being added to classifications.
- A new higher education mapping system should be established to enable regional student home addresses to be mapped to their applicable university campus, providing a more consistent method at the national level that will determine eligibility for various government and university financial support mechanisms.
- Students reported that they had difficulty in understanding government requirements concerning eligibility, allowances and timing for receiving government allowances.
- A gap exists in the communication of information and documentary process and timing for applications for government allowances. Centrelink and the higher education sector should consider revising the communications flow to students.
- Transport costs represent a significant burden with relocating students visiting home a number of times a year, adding to transport costs.
- Where transport costs represent a significant burden on a daily basis, there is a need to further explore what provisions and mechanisms could be identified and easily implemented.
- Technology-mediated blended learning study options often mean that regional students do not need to relocate to participate in higher education. However, the emergence of short-term relocation expenses to attend compulsory professional practice workshops are a source of financial pressure.
- Universities should consider the most efficient process for regional students attending professional workshops.
- Relocating regional students experience transitional challenges when they move away from established support networks. There is a need to create a means for regional students to connect, form new friendships and share resources.
- Feasibility of a secure regional student website should be explored that would assist regional students to connect prior to relocating to metropolitan areas.
Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.