Raising regional educational aspirations

We often tell rural and regional young people to play it safe when they're planning their futures - we should be telling them to reach for the stars!

“Why go to uni if I can earn a good wage now and not have a HECS debt?”

I frequently hear this question, especially from students in rural and regional areas.  With last month’s release of Year 12 results, many young people are weighing up what’s next: TAFE, university or full-time work. The reality is fewer rural or regional young people will attend university than their city cousins.

It was not until I was on a school council in a regional city that this damning fact became clear: People in regional, rural and remote communities are 40 per cent less likely to have a university qualification than those in cities. They are also less than half as likely to get a bachelor’s degree by age 35.

I recently heard 2019 Victorian Young Australian of the Year – and successful country kid - Dr Skye Kinder speak at a regional secondary college awards night.

Hearing about the blatant putdowns she endured because she was from a country public school not expected to have students go to university let alone study medicine was confronting.

Since 2000, the rate of Australian school leavers attending university has risen to over 40 per cent. The 2009 removal of university enrolment caps increased participation, but not in regional, rural and remote areas.

Working on a regional university campus I am privileged to teach fantastic country students who constantly amaze me with their resilience, determination to achieve and successful careers. Many factors contribute to lower university participation rates in these communities, including fewer education options in their area, financial barriers, the challenges of relocating, and importantly, lower aspiration.

Sadly, our communities’ students are constantly told to ‘lower their expectations’ and ‘play it safe’ from their peers, teachers, careers counsellors and even their parents. While this comes from a desire not to set young people up for disappointment, the later years of high school are a time when they make major decisions about their future, largely influenced by adults. We should be encouraging them to realise their potential – to reach for the stars!

Education is a basic human right and a university education should not be determined by postcode, parent occupation or socio-economic status.

Our communities will benefit greatly if we increase university participation rates by removing barriers and lifting aspirations.

This article was first published in the Bendigo Advertiser.

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