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Distance affects university choice, ACU research finds

Proximity to a university is a major factor in aspiring to, and choosing, a university, new research from Australian Catholic University (ACU) has found.

Researchers used data from 12,000 adolescents surveyed in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth to explore the association between distance to a university campus and attainment of university entry (including enrolment in an elite university), as well as critical predicators of these outcomes in access to information resources such as outreach programs.

There was an even split between male and female adolescents surveyed, with 27 per cent from provincial or rural backgrounds. Two per cent of adolescents were Indigenous.

The researchers found that children who lived close to a university were 12 percentage points more likely to aspire to university; 63 versus 51 percent. This effect was larger for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

For children who aspired to go to university at age 15, those who grew up close to a university were eight percentage points more likely to go to university by age 19 than those who did not; 50 per cent versus 42 percent.

Of those who went to university, those with a Group of Eight university in proximity when they were 15 were 13 percentage points more likely to go to a Group of Eight university than those that did not; 34 versus 21 percent.

Dr Philip Parker, Lead Researcher, ACU, said the findings would prove interesting for university administrators as they suggest that distance affects aspirations well before young people have to cope with university fees, rent, and relocation. He said this indicates that there may need to be more than scholarships and bursaries to assist rural and remote youth to attend university.

“Our research shows that distance exerts an influence on students’ choice beyond socioeconomic background and academic ability. It also suggests that close relationship to community and strong family ties need to be accounted for in assisting rural and remote youth in accessing university.”

Dr Parker said the role that distance plays in university access is complex, however, helping youth remain connected to their community throughout the academic year may help promote uptake in university degrees for rural and remote youth.

“This is a challenge for both governments and universities and requires innovative solutions,” he said.

The study is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and can be read here:

The research was carried out by ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, together with the Institute of Education at University College London, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (UK), Western Sydney University and the University of St Andrews (UK).

  • ACU is a national university and has two campuses in regional areas (Ballarat and Canberra) in addition to five campuses in metropolitan areas (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney). ACU also has a centre in Rome.
  • ACU assists students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds by providing various pathways and entry schemes to university including Educational Access and Special Education Access schemes, Bonus Points schemes, the Early Achievers’ Program, the Principal’s Recommendation Program, and the Elite Athlete and Performer Program, in addition to a wide range of scholarships and bursaries.
  • In addition to being regionally based, ACU recognises the close ties students have with their communities. Community Engagement is part of the Core at ACU, ensuring students continue to foster those strong relationships with communities and make a difference locally.


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