Exploring the emotional and material realities shaping young people’s aspirations for higher education in regional and remote areas

Year: 2018

Author: Fray, Leanne, Gore, Jenny, Gibson, Skye, Harris, Jess

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Internationally, access to higher education for underrepresented groups remains an enduring concern. In Australia, students from regional and remote areas have been inscribed in government education policy as an equity target group since as early as 1990. However, despite an abundance of research on the aspirations of young people from these areas and evidence of their interest in pursuing higher education, strategies to alleviate their underrepresentation have shown minimal success. This signals the need for a more nuanced understanding of the unique and complex ways in which specific contexts influence the formation and realisation of aspirations.
Drawing on survey data involving more than 1200 school students, and interviews and focus groups with parents, teachers, and students, we present four case studies from diverse regional and remote communities in NSW. The case studies illuminate the vast spectrum of emotional and material realities that influence the formation and realisation of young people’s aspirations in regional and remote communities. In particular, we found that student aspirations are shaped by: community cohesion and tensions; restructuring of rural industries and shifts in the employment landscape; desire to remain in/leave the community; viability of educational and employment goals; the dis/connection between home and school; exposure to education and employment options; and access to compulsory and post-compulsory schooling. Through this analysis, we draw attention to the varying ways that young people from these communities imagine their futures and the pathways they see as viable.
We argue that in order to develop successful and sustainable initiatives that address participation in higher education, policies need to part from hegemonic discourses of ‘rurality’ and instead seek to properly understand the diverse needs and desires of students in regional and remote areas. Such understanding is critical for supporting young people in achieving a broad range of career and education goals.