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Rural Students and Higher Education

The Rural Education and Communities research group works with communities for sustainable community outcomes. This research focuses on understanding the role of higher education and how it values rural knowledges and the human capitals of rural communities.

Rural Students @ University

Chief Investigators: Philip Roberts, Amanda Edwards, Natalie Downes


This research program explores the challenges rural, regional and remote students face in gaining entry to university and their subsequent experiences. The research aims to help make university transitions simpler for rural, regional and remote students and to enhance their achievement once they begin their studies, by minimising the obstacles they may face. From an academic perspective the program examines the disjuncture between rural, regional and remote student knowledges and the knowledges they encounter in gaining entry and when at university. As such the social constructing of knowledge, social and cultural capitals, and university knowledge as knowledge of the global metropole are foundational concepts.

In this program we work in partnership with Widening Participation at the University of Canberra. We lead an international project investigating the socio-cultural experiences of rural students at university. This project aims to begin to understand how a rural upbringing may influence students’ experiences. Notions of social and cultural capital, knowledges, and experiences moving from a rural area to a university across different locations, institutional status, and national contexts will be explored. The objective is to understand how the experiences of students who grew up in rural areas may differ, to help inform Higher Education equity policy. the project team includes academics from the Australian National University, University of Sydney and University of New England. We are also working in collaboration with Guangzhou University, China, on an interlinked comparative study. The China component of this collaborative research is led by Dr Ailei Xie of the Bay Area Education Policy Institute for Social Development, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China.

Research Approach

The socio-cultural experiences of rural students at university project uses a focus group methodology, transcript analysis and comparative analysis. The collaborative projects also use focus group approaches and trial a number of tools.

Related Publications

This project has just begun.

Reinventing the Gap Year

Our team is part of a collaborative project led by the University of Sydney, with the NSW Department of Education, the University of Canberra, the University of Wollongong and the Country Education Foundation focused on ‘Reinventing the Gap Year’ aimed at reducing gap year attrition in university matriculation.

For many students, a gap year is a necessary, well-reasoned and ultimately helpful event. But it’s not the automatic ‘magic bullet’ cure for post-school anxieties, indecisions, aspirations and needs that some students might think it to be. So, it is vital students and their parents are provided with accurate and easily accessible information to make their decisions. ‚ÄčThis project offer year 12 students, parents or carers, and students on gap years access to resources about gap years, provided through a monthly email. The resources are not intended to actively dissuade or encourage regional students to take a gap year.  What the resources will do is provide these students and their parents with information on gap years and university.  The non-branded resources are designed to help regional students and parents think through what they might want from a gap year and correct known misconceptions about gap years and university experiences.  The topics that the resources will feature include the financial and social costs of going to university and issues associated with indecisions about going to university, what to study and careers.

Students, parents and carers can sign up to the resources here.

Higher Education Career Advice for Low SES and Rural Students

Our team is part of a project that is led by the University of Wollongong, with the University of Canberra, University of Tasmania, Macquarie University, University of New South Wales and the Australian Catholic University focused on higher education careers advice for low SES and rural students.

This program responds to previous research that showed regional students, and low SES metropolitan students, study subjects that facilitate university entry at a lower rate than other students. Research indicated this was due to a lack of recognition of the role of these subjects in future careers in the local area. This is major issue as not studying relevant subjects at school limits university entry pathways. Relating to university study in prospective local careers is critical as many students in this category indicated the desire to live and work locally as an important driver in career decisions, including not studying university related subjects. In this program we work with local students in low SES metropolitan schools, and rural schools, to identify the characteristics of career advice they perceive to be important in understanding careers in their local area. This enhances social mobility, while also responding to the needs of youth who aim to remain in their local community. This advice includes as an important component the connection to valuable school subjects to facilitate university pathways and careers of interest.

The University of Canberra is currently working with low SES and rural schools in their network to design and trial a careers education outreach program that meets the needs of individual communities and addresses the issues of local careers, university subjects, school subjects and pathways to careers in the local community.

Research Approach

This project uses a mixed method approach – specifically a literature review (done by UoW), survey method & focus group – to allow an efficient triangulation of data.  The approach also enables alignment with UC 2016 HEPPP project.

How to Participate

The development of the Careers education outreach program is informed by a survey of industry members in NSW and the ACT, a survey of academics who teach in Universities, and students in the schools we will be working with. The survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete and will have ranking questions and space for open written comments.  Questions in the survey will explore careers participants know about, careers they know locally, what school subjects relate to these, where/how they came to these conclusions, where/how they access information and where/how they would like to access information.

If you are interested in participating in the surveys, you can click on the links below which will open the survey in a new browser window.

The survey will begin with information about the survey and the consent process. Participants give their consent to participate by opening and then submitting the survey. They will be reminded of this at the beginning and completion of the survey.

Participants can also access a copy of the participant information and consent sheets for their reference: