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Does regionality influence students’ perceived employability and career orientation?

A study of students at an Australian university

Dawn Bennet1, Elizabeth Knight2, Paul Koshy3 and Ian Li4

Undertaking university study is a significant step for all students, but particularly those from rural, regional, and remote (RRR) areas. For this cohort, the pathway to higher education is often riskier and more challenging, and one with fewer support structures in place. An important aspect to our understanding of students’ choices and plans is their reporting of self-perceptions around employability and career orientation.

A recent article in the Australian and International Journal of Rural Education addressed this question using data from a unique survey that focused on perceived employability: students’ confidence in their ability to create and sustain meaningful work across the career lifespan and in multiple settings. The article provides insights into how regionality affects students’ perceived employability and the extent to which there are differences between RRR and metropolitan-based students. The research study reports on combined quantitative and qualitative responses from 4,993 students at an Australian university, coupled with their administrative data, to provide a comprehensive data set.

The study focused on five capabilities in relation to employability thinking: Self-esteem; Academic Self-efficacy; Career Identity and Commitment; Career Exploration and Awareness; and Occupational Mobility (having a “Plan B”).

The authors found that in relation to the first four capabilities there was no statistically significant relationship between RRR location and students’ perceptions of employability, and no difference between RRR and metropolitan students. Rather, other factors, such as school background—with government schools being less effective than better-resourced non-government schools—were significant in explaining differences. However, while these factors tended to be more important than disadvantage associated with distance, their effects were more prevalent in RRR areas. This finding accords with observations from students, for instance:

Moving from high school to [university] is very demanding and a very different set of skills are needed. Some schools provide this information in the final year of high school and their students are prepared but others are not offered this information. I feel my rural high school barely prepared me at all and I find the [first-year classes] helpful but slightly difficult to understand considering I have no background information or support. (Female nursing student from a remote background, studying on campus).

The study found there was a statistically significant difference between RRR and metropolitan students in relation to Occupational Mobility, with RRR students expressing greater levels of confidence. It appears that the wider spectrum of disadvantage, as reported above, resulted in RRR students thinking more strategically about their education and employment. In this way, the development of self-reliance mechanisms among RRR students prepared them for conceptualising challenges associated with future employability, including occupational mobility.

The findings suggest that RRR location largely affects students’ employability confidence in conjunction with other forms of disadvantage. Moreover, these forms of disadvantage may not be currently addressed due to deficiencies in support systems. It is these systems that require special consideration and adjustment, including additional levels of resourcing, for them to enable the success of RRR students.

The full article discussing this study in the Australian and International Journal of Rural Education is available at:

1Bond University
2Victoria University
3National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University
4The University of Western Australia

Posted 16 December 2021 Posted in General, Regional, rural and remote