An unprecedentedly high number of regional students across Australia are moving to metropolitan universities, a new research by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University has found.
The study revealed that there was a 76 percent increase in the number of regional students across Australian states and territories moving to a city location to study.
Regional Australia is popularly known as areas outside the Australia cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide, which includes a diverse range of settings from farms and remote mining communities, as well as those who live in towns, cities and large regional centres. Regional students thus refer to students who originate from regional Australia.
While the migration of regional students to cities have risen massively, many of these students are choosing to study in states other than New South Wales (NSW). In fact, NSW is experiencing an increasing exodus of regional students.
Led by La Trobe University researchers, Dr Buly Cardak and Matt Brett and Dr Mark Bowden of Swinburne University, the research used novel data sources and analytic techniques. For example, the researchers looked at data such as the address listed by students at the commencement of their degree, instead of using the current higher education indicators which are based on current permanent home address in the year of reporting
As a result, they also found that, contrary to traditional research, the number of regional students pursuing higher education has grown 38.8 percent between 2008 and 2014, compared to the 33.1 percent growth across the higher education sector.
“In the second year of university, you might change your home address to your city address,” said Dr Buly to Sydney Morning Herald.
“We’ve asked the department to pull out the original permanent home addresses and, when you do that, the story is quite startling.”
Exodus – Movement of the regional students from NSW
Another surprising discovery from the study was the increasing exodus of regional students from NSW, which reported a net loss of 4435 students in 2014, marking a 62.5 per cent increase from 2008 when NSW lost a net total of 2775 students.
These students head to neighbouring states, such as Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Victoria. These states reported a net gain of 1955, 1923 and 1700 regional students in 2014.
“There’s this big, ongoing outflow of students from NSW,” Mr Cardak said. “The cost of living in Sydney is probably a factor, along with the geography of NSW with big populations in border towns.
Student migration patterns like these are deemed “a problem for regional areas that are losing students, according to Cardak.
But such findings will do well if channeled towards the current federal debate on education, especially on issues such as the increase of regional participation in higher education and universities’ funding, regional or otherwise.
“Relocation to the city is escalating and this will have important policy implications for higher education funding,” said Brett, who is also an Equity Fellow at La Trobe University.
“There’s a long term policy question in terms of the extent to which we train regional students in regions and the extent to which we support their relocation.”