An Australian-first study has revealed regional students across every state and territory are turning to metropolitan universities at an unprecedented rate.

The new study, funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University, and led by La Trobe University researchers, LBS’s Dr Buly Cardak and Matt Brett and Dr Mark Bowden of Swinburne University, shows the number of regional students across Australia moving to a city location to study increased by more than 76% between 2008 and 2014.

“We found the growth in regional students relocating to metropolitan universities far outstrips growth of regional students taking up higher education places in either their home town or another regional location. However, regional students studying in regional locations are still a majority, and are attracted to a small number of larger regional centres,” La Trobe Business School’s Associate Professor Buly Cardak said.

“This growth was particularly strong with more flexible modes of study. We found mature aged students, students with disabilities, or those wanting to study part-time are increasingly turning to city campuses.”

The researchers used enrollment data drawn from the Department of Education and Training from 2008-2014 which uniquely classifies students as regional based on their residential location when they started university.

“Previous information only accounted for students’ current home addresses. Using this new information we can see that the number of regional students enrolling in university has grown by almost 39% over this period.”

“This is in stark comparison to the conventional wisdom based on existing data, which shows the growth rate in regional student numbers is slightly lower than the rate of growth in metropolitan student numbers”

The report also indicated that regional students likely to face financial constraints are no less likely to attend university, and are instead displaying a greater likelihood of graduation.

“Our findings turn a lot of commonly held perceptions about regional students on their head, and is likely to have significant implications for the sector.”

“For example, how might the Government prioritise funding allocations, now that we know an increasing number of regional students are instead choosing metropolitan campuses? Do they invest more in the city, providing infrastructure and support for migrating students or do they increase incentives for students to stay in or return to regional locations where skilled graduates are in short supply?”

NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad said the report offers a new perspective on regional participation and paves the way for future discussion and policy advancements.

“The findings of this report are positive. It provides an evidence base for what is really happening with regional students accessing higher education. The issue now is the challenge of attracting graduates back to our regional areas, and the associated policy implications,” Professor Trinidad said.

The report, Regional student Participation and Migration, is available from the NCSEHE website.

Editor’s note:

The NCSEHE aims to inform public policy design and implementation and institutional practice to improve the higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people.

La Trobe University is Victoria’s third oldest University. Established in 1971 it is now firmly entrenched in the world’s top 400 universities. It currently has more than 36,000 students and is the largest provider of higher education in regional Victoria.