In 2021 95% of Flinders undergraduate domestic students indicated they had a South Australian home address and 83% came from a major Australian city (taken from Student Course Demographics). These statistics reflect the findings from Janine Delahunty’s 2020 Equity Fellow report, ‘You going to uni?’ Exploring how people from regional, rural and remote areas navigate into and through higher education.
According to Delahunty (2022) over the past decade, half the number of students from regional, rural and remote (RRR) locations have acquired a degree qualification compared to students from major cities of Australia. The motivation behind “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” (p 1).
The report’s findings suggest students attending university from RRR locations do not only relocate to do so but must also negotiate a complex myriad of emotions related to connections to community and family. The interviewed students discussed various possible futures and goals and the various strategies they used to achieve the futures they hope and imagine are possible. The various barriers within and outside of students’ control and the enablers which help students manage them are indicated in the findings. These include financial barriers, institutional barriers around inflexible processes, practices and (lack of) university staff understandings of the realities for these students in addition to the complexities arising from multiple equity factors. These barriers reflect the reality for most of the students involved in the study. However, “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” (p. 2).
Delahunty outlines six recommendations to improve attendance and persistence for RRR students. These may be summarised as including RRR students in decision making processes around policy, processes and practices across all areas of university decision making, including in relation to class and/or extracurricular activities and government funding arrangements such as the continued and expanded funding for regional hubs. For some students having a university campus nearer home than the nearest capital city facilitated their attendance. Though for other students leaving their rural locations was equally important, so both options may need to be available.
Staff wishing to know more about engaging RRR students studying at Flinders will find the report of interest. Those with a passion regarding student equity will also find it useful.
Review by Dr Ann Luzeckyj