The Australian | 10 July 2013
Money and distance are the main reasons regional school-leavers are not applying for university, not lack of aspiration, research by the University of Ballarat shows, with regional students who have to leave home facing an extra $20,000 a year in costs compared with a city student living at home.
The findings are consistent with claims by the Regional Universities Network that financial scholarships and access to HECS loans to cover moving costs would help participation rates.
Surveys and interviews with years 9 and 12 students at Benalla, Mansfield and Wangaratta in north eastern Victoria reveal strong aspirations to study at university, backed by supportive parents and teachers. But it isn’t enough to counter costs that see students defer, a third of them never taking up their place.
Lead researcher John McDonald, dean of education and arts at the University of Ballarat, said lack of aspiration was often used to explain away the lower participation rates of regional students, but it was more to do with the higher cost of having to move.
He noted attending university cost
In Victorian regional areas, the proportion of all Year 12 completers who chose to defer an offer of study has jumped from 9.9% in 2004 to 16.5% last year, 1500 students.
That compares with 8.1% of metropolitan Year 12 students deferring last year, up from 5.5%.
Based on state government survey data, in Benalla 83% of those who deferred a university or TAFE place cited financial pressure, compared with 25% across the state.
In more prosperous Mansfield, the rate was 36.4% . Across all three towns, more than 40% cited taking time off to work and qualify for Youth Allowance as a reason to defer, compared with 19% statewide.
Last year, 21.5% of university preliminary applications nationally came from regional or remote students, under representing their 27.9% share of the population.
The report finds policy is disjointed and not focused on raising participation in regional areas.
Federal support for regional universities in the form of improved loading and structural adjustment funding tended to sustain regional universities rather than directly boost student participation. McDonald said there needed to be a focus on the towns that had significant numbers of young people not seeing a future for themselves if they stayed.
In Benalla, only 12% of Year 12 students saw a real future for themselves if they stayed while 58% cent said they did not.
According to the report, such data turns the problem of aspiration on its head.
“The real problem is a structural one for the town and for those in power. It isn’t the students whose future is at stake. They will take their ambitions, talents and skills elsewhere. It is the town’s future that is at stake.”
Parents are critical influencers, especially in lower socioeconomic families, where a lack of knowledge and understanding about higher education is not compensated for in the school environment.
McDonald said that the current debate about recapping university places risked exacerbating the problems of regional access by constraining regional universities.