New report on challenges faced by regional university students from low socio-economic backgrounds

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds studying at regional universities struggle with living in poverty and managing the complex demands of family life, university expectations and working to support themselves, a new report has found.

The federally-funded Faciliating success for students from low SES backgrounds at regional universities report, researched by Federation University’s Professor Marcia Devlin and Dr Jade McKay, interviewed 69 students from low socio-economic backgrounds at national universities, and 26 stakeholders including university staff.

“Far from the romantic stereotype of being a poor student somehow being fun, students interviewed for this study outlined the significant challenges inherent in living in poverty and concurrently managing the demands of being a university student while balancing ... finances, paid work and in many cases, family and/or carer responsibilities,” the report said.

The report classified universities into metropolitan, regional, or metropolitan with regional campuses: the University of Tasmania was classified as metropolitan with regional campuses.

The report found five areas where policy research and reform are needed: adjustments to income support policy and scholarships for regional students; monitoring attrition rates and being aware of “the context of complex [student] lives and competing priorities”.

Encouraging and valuing ‘micro qualifications’ with more exit point qualifications for students who can’t commit to three years of full time study was also emphasised.

More investment into regional and rural infrastructure such as libraries and schools would also assist students to complete their high school education, the report noted, as well generate “greater aspiration for university level qualifications”.

Practical factors that supported students living in poverty included the “critical importance” of financial assistance and stability, as well as ensuring access to reliable technology.

The report also emphasised the importance of understanding that many students from low SES backgrounds could be the first of their family to attend university and have less “social capital” to draw on for support.

A key factor identified for successful students were their own qualities of a positive attitude, motivation, determination and resilience, along with ongoing family support.