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  • University of Ballarat: Submission to Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry

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    SUBMISSION FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF BALLARAT: SUMMARY, FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    About the University of Ballarat: The University of Ballarat is the only regionally headquartered, dual sector university in Victoria. Its Act mandates that the University must provide for the “educational, cultural, professional, technical and vocational services to the community and of persons living and working in Central and Western Victoria.” The University draws students from across a broad area of regional Victoria including the communities of Ballarat, Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Nhill, Hamilton, Maryborough, Warrnambool, Portland, Bacchus Marsh, Bendigo, Mildura and Swan Hill. All of these communities have significantly lower participation rates in higher education than the national average. The University of Ballarat, with its 22,000 students, has the highest proportion of regional students (72 per cent) as a percentage of its Commonwealth load of any university in Victoria and of all regional universities in Australia. Approximately three in every four of its undergraduate Commonwealth funded students find their first employment in regional and rural areas following graduation from the University of Ballarat. The University of Ballarat welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Inquiry into Geographical Differences in the rate in which Victorian Students Participate in Higher Education. Accompanying this submission are two detailed reports which provide data and background material in support of the findings, observations and recommendations made below. Using the terms of reference for the Inquiry as a guide, and the data in the attached reports as a basis, the University of Ballarat: 1. Agrees with the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission that

    “…access to education, including higher education, is a basic need of rural people. Education is now recognised as being one of the three factors, along with long life and reasonable income, that are fundamental to positive human development. Lack of access to educational opportunities conversely leads to economic and social marginalisation.”1

    2. Finds that, by any measure, the geographic differences (especially between rural and metropolitan Victoria) influence the rate in which Victorian students participate in higher education and these influences are significant, iniquitous and becoming greater, with rurality, socio-economic status and gender combining to produce the greatest educational disadvantage in Victoria. On average, students completing secondary education in regional and rural Victoria have a two in three chance of not participating in higher education compared with their metropolitan counterparts who have a greater than one in two chance of going to university, with the trend showing that the gap is widening between rural and metropolitan Victoria.

    3. Notes that University of Ballarat researchers, in a separate report to the State

    Government of Victoria in 2007, have found that this educational disadvantage experienced by students in regional and rural areas of Victoria is compounded due to the “precarious state of many rural communities, the decline of services, fewer transport options, disaffection of young people, youth depression and suicide, rural insecurity, low morale caused by drought and rural contraction, low incomes, unemployment, increased risk taking, drug abuse and unsafe sexual activity among the young, retreat of professionals to large towns and cities, high unemployment and poor community

    1 Universities in Crisis: Report into the Capacity of Public Universities to meet Australia’s Higher Education Needs (2001) Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education References Committee, Canberra, p.320.

  • University of Ballarat: Submission to Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry

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    health.”2 The University of Ballarat researchers further note that it is a “miracle” that educational outcomes in regional and rural areas of Victoria are as good as they are given these circumstances.

    4. Finds that regional and rural families in Victoria have a significant influence on shaping

    the aspirations of their children in relation to higher education and, using our own data, has identified that seven in 10 students on Commonwealth Supported Places (HECS) at the University of Ballarat are the first members of their family to attend university. Further, from its own research studies3, the University has found that students from regional and rural Victoria compared with their metropolitan counterparts have (a) lower aspirations to undertake higher education studies, (b) are more likely to pursue employment options at the completion of their secondary schooling, (c) come from schools which generally have lower year 12 retention rates, and (d) are more likely to defer their enrolment into higher education institutions with one in five rural and regional students currently deferring their university studies compared to one in every 16 metropolitan students.

    As part of this Parliamentary Inquiry, “strategies to address … differences in participation in higher education” are also sought. The University of Ballarat is in an ideal situation to make a series of recommendations in this regard, given that it is Victoria’s only dual sector university headquartered in regional Victoria. The University itself is making an important contribution to redressing the low participation rates from regional and rural Victoria through a range of initiatives which include:

    The University of Ballarat Rural Education Entry Program (REEP): REEP allows current VCE students from regional and rural communities to be considered for a place at the University based on their overall ability and potential to succeed, rather than just their ENTER score. One of the key benefits of this entry scheme is that regional VCE students can apply for a place at the University through their Secondary School with their application based on a report and recommendation from their School Principal. Under the REEP initiative, students are offered a provisional place at the University in early December. Rural Outreach at the University of Ballarat: The University has established a rural outreach project with the aim of improving the participation of regional students in higher education. In 2007, the project sought to raise student aspirations about higher education, presented information about university life and provided practical advice on matters such as moving away from home and student finances. Over a seven week period, the project involved 60 separate presentations in 42 regional and rural schools and was delivered to approximately 1300 students in Years 10, 11 and 12. Fifty-eight University of Ballarat students, as “ambassadors”, participated in the school visits. In addition,

    2Barry Golding, Clem Barnett, Mike Brown, Lawrie Angus and Jack Harvey (2007) ‘Everything is Harder’: Participation in Tertiary Education of Young People from Rural and Regional Victoria, University of Ballarat, Ballarat.

    3 University of Ballarat’s 2007 Equity Outreach Project: Evaluation Report. The University of Ballarat, Ballarat.

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    the project also piloted parent information sessions through regional and rural areas of Victoria. Providing Funding Support for Regional and Rural Students: The University has had a long history of supporting students from regional and rural areas of Victoria. With the 2005 implementation of Commonwealth Learning Scholarships, the University of Ballarat provided complementary scholarships that targeted low income students and students moving from rural areas to study. The program has been reviewed and expanded after each round, and has resulted in extending the provision of University equity scholarships and the offering of 100 drought scholarships and a free computer scheme in 2007. The University of Ballarat Student Transition Program: The University has in place a Mentoring and Transition Program for commencing students, to enhance social networking, to break down isolation, and to assist with transition to the University, catering especially for those who are first generation university students and those from rural and isolated areas. This program includes matching every commencing student with a trained and paid student mentor, who is usually a second or third year student.

    All of these initiatives and programs have been evaluated and their success has been validated in enhancing the participation of regional and rural students in higher education, and in retaining these students once at university. With the exception of the Commonwealth Learning Scholarships and some seed funding for the rural outreach project, all of the initiatives are funded by the University without support of the Federal or State Governments. Clearly, with appropriate funding, the University could do much more to assist with redressing the declining regional and rural participation rates in higher education given that it has six campuses in regional Victoria: in Ballarat (3), Ararat, Stawell and Horsham. This, therefore, leads to the first recommendation to the Inquiry: Recommendation #1