Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Deferring a University Offer in Rural Australia

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Deferring a University Offer in Rural Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article examines the transition of rural school-completers in the Australian state of Victoria who, when first contacted as part of a tracking study five months after leaving school, had deferred an offer of a place in university. 'Deferment (sometimes known as deferral) is the process whereby successful applicants to a particular course are able to delay commencement of their studies in that course' (University of Melbourne, 2007). The issue of theoretical and practical interest that this article examines is whether this phenomenon of deferral constitutes a disadvantage for young people living in rural areas. For example, are these deferrers 'lost' to the system? Do they eventually take up their places? Are some groups less likely to take them up than others? What happens to the rest? Of particular interest is the question regarding what barriers might prevent some groups from taking up their place. Past studies indicate that cost-related factors and financial barriers are prominent amongst the reasons given by young people for deferring, particularly among regional deferrers (Teese, Clarke & Polesel, 2007, p. 57). Do these barriers continue to play a role? And finally, what is the experience of those who enter university? Do they continue and thrive in their studies?

The argument that rural and remote communities experience relatively more severe economic and social hardship than their metropolitan counterparts--a phenomenon described as 'regional disadvantage'--has been widely applied in the fields of unemployment, labour distribution and business investment (for example, Kilmartin, 1993; Western Research Institute, 2004). In the Australian context, it has also been applied to educational issues relating to the challenges of curriculum provision in schools and the need to maximise access to technical and trade training facilities in the VET sector (Parliament of Victoria, 2006). In the domain of higher education, research has noted the need to support students from rural and remote settings who move away from home to attend university (Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, 2007) and the higher costs of university study for rural students (Parliament of Victoria, 2006). The combined impact on university participation of low socio-economic status and rurality was also highlighted in a recent review of higher education in Australia (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008). The research has further noted the higher per-student costs of delivering university courses in non-metropolitan settings (LaTrobe University, 2006; University of Ballarat, 2007). Consequently, state governments have called on the Commonwealth to recognise these higher costs and to allocate greater numbers of university places to regional campuses of universities (Parliament of Victoria, 2006). Higher education participation rates in rural communities have long been known to be lower than those in metropolitan areas (Stevenson, Maclachlan & Karmel, 1999; Marks et al., 2000) and Australian federal government data suggests an increasing gap over time between the proportions of metropolitan and non-metropolitan people with tertiary qualifications, with the lowest proportions to be found in the most remote areas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).

But the role of deferral within the broader context of relatively low university participation in rural Australia has received little attention. This is partly due to the comparative recency of any published data that might support an analysis of the phenomenon on a regional basis. Tracking studies in Queensland and Victoria have only recently allowed the calculation of reliable estimates of rates of deferral for metropolitan and non-metropolitan school-completers. In other states, tracking studies are largely absent or relate to sample studies, such as recent New South Wales studies comparing samples of school completers (for example, Helme et al. …

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