‘You going to uni?’ Exploring how people from regional, rural and remote areas navigate into and through higher education
NCSEHE Equity Fellowship final report
Dr Janine Delahunty, University of Wollongong
The overarching objective of the Fellowship entitled ‘You going to uni?’: Exploring how regional, rural and remote people navigate into and through university’, was to explore risks to university completion for those in regional, rural and remote locations of Australia. While the original proposal focused on regional students, the participation of some from remote regions broadened this focus. However, to also be inclusive of rural students, the acronym ‘RRR’ will be adopted throughout the report, as widely accepted when referring collectively to regional, rural and remote1 (Roufeil and Battye, 2008). Where appropriate, however, distinctions will be made between these groupings. The problem motivating the Fellowship inquiry was the consistently low rates of university completion for RRR students over the past decade. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data (2021), the proportion of RRR people with a degree qualification remains half that of people in major cities. Thus, the aim of the fellowship was to understand what factors contribute to this persistent disparity, and by taking a strengths-based approach to also capture what enables students to persist.
Research design and methods
Privileging the voices of people from RRR areas at university or in senior school years was a critical aspect of the design. The aim was to explore perspectives on their future goals and perceptions of barriers to completion, as well as the very personal repercussions of movement into and through university. Capturing these voices would help ensure the translation of the Fellowship outcomes were as authentic and meaningful as possible for the RRR population. To achieve the main objective of how people from RRR areas themselves perceived and experienced higher education, there were three key questions driving the study:
- How is movement into and through university articulated by people who are from regional, rural and remote areas?
- What goals and hoped-for futures are students moving towards?
- What barriers and enablers to higher education participation are perceived and experienced?
To explore answers to these key questions, a qualitative approach was taken to collect rich data from participants through surveys and interviews. The main participant dataset came from university students from RRR areas enrolled across 21 Australian universities (regional and metropolitan) or regional campuses, complemented with data from staff in various roles from 12 institutions. A number of senior secondary school students who were enrolled in a university outreach program also participated, as well as a small number of school staff. The key findings align with the three questions outlined above.
Key finding 1:
For people from RRR areas,
- Movement into and through university entails more than geographical (re)location alone.
- Movement into and through university reflects strong connections to communities and families. The range of emotion expressed points to the complex and demanding negotiations that RRR students are undergoing.
Key finding 2:
RRR students articulated like-to-be or like-to-avoid futures variously through specific, general, broad or big-picture goals. Actions and behaviours indicate that students are mobilising strategies to realise what they hope for and imagine for themselves in the future.
Key finding 3:
Barriers to and enablers of completion for students from RRR communities:
- Barriers outside the control of students included financial barriers, institutional barriers around inflexible processes, practices and (lack of) university staff understandings of the realities for these students.
- Barriers outside the control of the student included the complexities arising from multiple equity factors, which were the realities for most of the participants.
- Enablers: Students’ individual strengths and qualities were enablers to persistence and completion of university, as were strong networks of support from family, communities, belongingness and connectedness.
The main project output is the Regional2 Student Futures website www.regionalstudentfutures.org.au, developed from the participant data. The site houses a range of open source resources including an advice tool Within a Cooee! which is comprised entirely of advice from student and staff participants to other people from RRR communities. Other additions to the resources include an interactive self-reflective tool to explore aspects of future-focused thinking and goal-setting, and non-prescriptive guide(s) for support staff.
Equity Fellowship Snapshot — ‘You going to uni?’ Explore how people from regional, rural & remote areas navigate higher education
This Equity Fellowship was conducted under the NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.