Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

The Impact of a University Experience Program on Rural and Regional Secondary School Students: Keeping the Flame Burning

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

The Impact of a University Experience Program on Rural and Regional Secondary School Students: Keeping the Flame Burning

Article excerpt


Post-modern times saw higher education assuming much significance in providing countries their source of "intelligentsia" for innovations in science and technology, expert knowledge and skills in various professions, education of future leaders and managers, and well-informed community members (Bok, 2015). Higher education contributes to individuals' quality of life, improves communities, and is paramount for national progress (Baum, Ma, & Payae, 2013 Bok, 2015). However, with this successful development in tertiary education, new problems arise in many sectors including those who are not able to access nor participate in university. Poor participation in higher education is due to many interacting factors, specifically family income, cultural background, interests and personality, social background characteristics, geographic location, and parents' educational attainment (Penman & Oliver, 2011).

In year 2012, the former Centre for Regional Engagement at Whyalla conducted a program titled University Regional Experience (Further Afield), which grew from the university's orientation program. It was developed to introduce regional students to university studies. It was a regionally-focused school-university engagement program that linked students from local high schools with the regional campus and local employers, boosting student aspirations to attend university and their capacity to succeed at study. The objectives of the program were to provide students an experience of university; raise their motivation to attend university; explore pathways and plan for the future; and to collaborate with schools, parents, and future employers to increase participation in university studies (Penman & Goel, 2013; Penman & Oliver, 2011).

Following a successful application for university's Community Engagement Award, the program organisers made a commitment to increase the scope of this program to include other regional high schools and interest groups. The program was expanded to include schools from Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, and Roxby Downs. Employer partners were also expanded to include OneSteel, Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance (RESA), Arafura, BHP Billiton, and the Whyalla Hospital and Health Services. However, the primary objective remained the same--to attract regional students into higher education by introducing them to university life and highlighting the programs and support available. Thus, the program involved not only Whyalla students, but other rural and regional high schools, which is the focus of this paper. The purpose of this paper is to determine the impact of the Regional Experience (Farther Afield) Program on participating students and school staff.


The University Regional Experience (Farther Afield) Program responds directly to the challenges set out in the Australian Government's Review of Australian Higher Education that was undertaken by Professor Denise Bradley (Bradley Review) with a view to increasing the number of regional students attending university (Commonwealth of Australia, 2008). A recommendation of the Bradley Review is to achieve about 40% of the 25 to 34 year old cohort having at least a bachelor's degree by 2020. The review covers also special attention for certain groups currently under-represented in the tertiary sector, such as Indigenous people, people with low socio-economic status, and those from regional and remote areas. Participation by these groups had been static or decreasing, and it was projected that there will be a decrease in the 15 to 24 year age group in many regional areas. Another target in the Bradley Review is "to ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds aspire to and are able to participate in higher education" so that by 2020 20% of undergraduate enrolments are students from low socio-economic backgrounds (Commonwealth of Australia, 2008).

Efforts by local academic staff to tailor the program to the particular needs of regional students sought to meet the challenges outlined in the Bradley Review, which reported that participation in education leading to a tertiary qualification was declining within regional Australia. …

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