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Higher Education

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Supporting regional, rural and remote student transitions

Darren Matthews reports on the development and piloting of an assessment of university support services for regional, rural and remote students on transition to university.

Rates of higher education access, participation, retention and success for students who completed their secondary schooling in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia have for many years been lower than those for students from urban areas.

One potential reason for this is that regional, rural and remote university students often have differing needs and expectations from their urban peers, which need to be supported to facilitate a smooth and positive transition experience. The prospect of relocating, living in high cost localities, moving away from family, and feeling a sense of belonging are important considerations for universities in supporting regional, rural and remote students.

In response to the 2017 Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey, the Australian Department of Education and Training (DET) engaged the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to design and validate a framework for an annual assessment of the support services universities offer to regional and remote students on their transition to university; and pilot the assessment in Australia’s public universities.

The framework developed as part of this project was built around four elements, each of which have a number of indicators for assessing provision of services:

  • Resourcing
  • Sense of belonging
  • Communication
  • Effectiveness

If implemented, the assessment would involve measuring universities against each indicator based on data collected through a self-reported university survey, and through student response data from the national Student Experience Survey. A four point ‘traffic light’ measure is used to make the assessment on each indicator. Contextual information for each university, gathered through DET administrative data sets, is also reported as part of the assessment.

ACER’s development of the assessment framework was informed by widespread consultation with universities; review of literature relating to support for regional, rural and remote students; a detailed scan of digital resources and public websites of each Australian university; and exploration of relevant policies in place for supporting student transition to university. The project team conducted in-depth interviews with 38 relevant personnel from 14 different universities; visited three university campuses to gain additional understanding of services; and collected data on support service provision from 33 universities via an online survey.

The outcomes of the pilot assessment help to highlight different provision and different situations of universities across Australia. When a university’s core business is regional, rural and remote students, such as for regional universities, they are likely to cater to those needs as a matter of course. Metropolitan universities with smaller cohorts of regional, rural and remote students may be less likely to prioritise their needs ahead of the needs of those from metropolitan areas.

The pilot assessment offers a potential tool with which to more comprehensively understand the range of support services offered by universities, and the extent to which they are understood and used by students. It also has the potential to offer universities an opportunity to objectively review and reflect on their service provision for transitioning regional, rural and remote students.

The proposed framework has been released as part of the National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy development and will help inform the advisory group for this strategy. The advisory group’s interim report was due in late March 2019, ahead of the final report in late June 2019. ■

Read the full report:
Assessment of university support services for regional and remote students on transition to university, by Darren Matthews, Gina Milgate and Leyna Clarke, Australian Council for Educational Research (2018).


About the author

Darren Matthews is a Research Fellow in ACER’s Tertiary Education research program.

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