Are Regional Students Even Worth Supporting?

Image Credit: Nathalie Rosales-Cheng

Try and come up with a strong argument for why regional students are worth giving extra support to be at ANU.

We don’t get marks as high as our peers from the city. The median rural student has an ATAR of four points lower than the average city student. Whilst there were 34 public schools featured in last year’s top 100 performing schools in the HSC, there were only four schools featured from a regional area. Students from regional communities are often unable to access the facilities and resources that help you do well in school.

Once we get to uni, we’re less likely to graduate. Whilst the ANU has an attrition rate that’s half the national average of 14.8 per cent, nationally, students from regional areas are 21 per cent more likely to drop out of uni than students from metropolitan areas. If you’re from a remote area, you’re 62 per cent more likely to drop out.  

Regional students are also less likely to even attend university – about 20 per cent of people living in regional and remote areas have degrees, compared with 40 per cent of those living in cities.

We require more support and financial assistance – and every equity scholarship or bursary costs the ANU money. It simply costs more to have us here.

If this is all the case, then why bother? To have a truly ‘national’ university is hardly a reason. Why should we spend more on support and outreach to bring more regional students to the ANU?

Regional students are innately driven.  They often juggle several jobs at once alongside their studies, and have a strong sense of community – determined to give back to the ANU and to their hometowns. Regional students work exceptionally hard and don’t pass up opportunities – they know how lucky they are and value the chance to be a student at this incredible university.  

Too often, the importance of supporting regional students is told through a lens of pity and disadvantage. The stories of our students from regional areas however, paint a very different picture.  

Renee Selvey, First Year Maths/Music from Wagga Wagga, NSW

“Being on a scholarship myself, it has been a huge gift to be able to focus my energies on the opportunities at University and where I want to get involved, rather than concerning myself over a job to fund living expenses. I still see the importance of work – currently teaching guitar, but I feel very privileged to only work two hours a week compared to some other regional students who work much longer hours.

I’m looking forward to performing in Fenner Hall’s musical and Big Night Out; I see myself in the coming years becoming more involved within the ANU music scene.”

Jacob Mildren, Second Year Commerce/Policy Studies from Wodonga, VIC

“Moving from regional Australia to university can be a huge challenge. New surroundings, new friends, new costs of living, but especially important – new opportunities. Opportunities we simply can’t access at home.

One of the best traits of regional youth fortunate enough to be at ANU, is their willingness to dig in and have a go… I’ll be damned if I find a regional student who wastes the opportunity.

Perhaps it’s about our sense of community. Coming from a small rural or regional town where everyone chips in, being involved is a way of life. Regional students are the first to put their hand up, get involved in clubs, societies, internships.

That’s the value of regional students.”

Lachlan Arthur, Fourth Year Science from Gawler, SA

“My university life is a stark contrast to the one I would have had if I had stayed in South Australia.  Rather than balancing a three-hour commute to and from the city for Uni with paid work, I have been able to live on-campus and put my energy into work opportunities that are relevant to my career and pursue research, volunteer and sporting opportunities that would have been impossible if I weren’t at ANU.  

The scholarship I have received has enabled me to volunteer overseas and participate in four exchange programs throughout my degree, taking me to over 20 countries in total, and found the ANU’s PhB Society.  My ANU experience has been life-changing, and the fact that someone else’s generosity made my experience possible is enough to motivate me for the rest of my life.”

Tania Willis, Deputy Director of Access, Inclusion and Wellbeing from Armidale, NSW

“I’ve been working since I was 14, whilst I completed some studies at TAFE. In the early 90s I was made redundant from my retail job. I was only 19 at the time, and my partner and I were living on around $160 a week with a small mortgage – it was a very difficult time for us but we made it work.

After around 6 months of job hunting and rejection, someone finally gave me a go and I started casual work with the largest employer in our community, our local university. I loved the work and recognised early on that I wanted to study and discovered that I could apply as a mature aged student and study part-time while I worked. So…at 23, whilst on maternity leave, I decided to have a go at study – taking 7 years to complete my degree – as I juggled part time study alongside full-time work and family life.

It’s important that we don’t set up deficit models of support as students from regional backgrounds are incredibly capable, resilient and empowered to succeed. What we now need to do is continue to expand our suite of financial support which in turns supports wellbeing and academic success and work with our students and future students to engage and better communicate our programs and services with the broader community.”

Support for regional students isn’t merely altruistic. It’s an investment in the university, as regional students enrich the student experience for us all. To invest in regional students is to transform not only our regional communities, but the ANU.