Should I stay or should I go? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on regional, rural and remote undergraduate students at an Australian University
Julia Cook, Penny Jane Burke, Matthew Bunn and Hernan Cuervo
Originally published in Educational Review
3 August 2021
While widening participation in higher education for regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australian communities has been a major policy focus in recent years, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns and closures of internal borders between Australian states and territories has impacted significantly upon RRR students who relocate to pursue tertiary education. In this article we draw on intersectional theory and in-depth interview data to understand the experiences, challenges faced by, and related choice-making processes of students during the height of the pandemic period. In the wake of the lockdown and implementation of a study from home university policy, the 27 students interviewed uncovered a new variation of the classic dilemma faced by young people living in rural areas: should I stay or should I go? Drawing on existing insights about student choice in higher education, we analyse mobility decision-making in relation to the participants’ classed, gendered and locational identities. We find that although the pandemic impacted upon all of the participants, their experiences differed significantly and were stratified across existing lines of inequalities related particularly to their access to financial resources and practical assistance. We ultimately contend that while the pandemic and resulting public health measures provide an extraordinary context, they nevertheless highlight some of the key challenges and vulnerabilities faced by RRR students who are unable to quickly marshal financial, emotional and practical support when crises occur, providing insights whose utility persists beyond the pandemic.
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