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You are reading: Regional communities’ influences on equity participation in higher education

Robin Katersky Barnes, Sue Kilpatrick, Jessica Woodroffe, Nicole Crawford, Sherridan Emery, Gemma Burns and Margaret Noble

Executive Summary

There has been a growing interest in challenges faced by students from regional and remote Australia as their higher education access, participation, retention, success and attainment indicators persistently remain below those of their metropolitan counterparts. However, many students from regional and remote communities do perform well on the indicators, and there are communities across Australia that stand out on the basis of higher education performance. This study adopted a strengths-based approach to identify and explore these higher performing communities’ characteristics, attitudes and expectations; programs, partnerships and interventions; and social capital and infrastructure in order to uncover key influencers that support their residents to embark upon, and succeed in, higher education.

The study confirmed that there are differences amongst regional and remote communities in terms of community assets and attitudes that affect higher education outcomes for regional and remote students and other equity groups in regional and remote communities. Positive community attitudes toward education, and employer support for higher education, have an important significant role in promoting higher education access and participation, and in student retention and success. Proximity to a university campus, and connections between campus and community are also factors that facilitate access and participation, particularly for younger students. Mature-aged students in regional and remote communities, many of whom are studying part time and through distance mode, are a largely invisible but important segment of higher education participants and the workforce of regional and remote communities, which could be better supported by policy and university practice.

This project utilised a mixed-methods explanatory sequential design. Regional and remote communities, defined by postcode, were analysed for student access, participation, retention, success and attainment (completion) indicators by equity group using Department of Education and Training higher education student data for all regional and remote students from 2011 to 2016. In this report, the attainment indicator is defined as award or degree completion. A survey of regional and remote students attending five universities with more than 30 per cent of student load from regional and remote areas sought to find community-related factors that influence and enable access, participation, retention and success. Case studies identified community infrastructure relevant to educational aspiration and key informants were interviewed to explore community factors that contribute to higher education participation and success in five communities, selected to represent a diversity of communities that performed well on access, participation, retention, completion and/or success indicators from the national data and survey phases.

Read the full report here.