12 Oct 2023

Rural students face bigger climb to enter university

9:34 pm on 12 October 2023
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Rural high school students face bigger obstacles to reaching university graduation day. Photo: 123rf

New research has laid bare the challenges rural high school students face getting into tertiary education, compared to city students.

Auckland University research found NCEA results and University Entrance rates were about 15 percent lower for rural students, compared to urban students.

Lower academic achievement meant rural students faced greater barriers getting into competitive tertiary programmes, such as medical school.

Research lead Kyle Eggleton said rural schools were more likely to be lower decile and had higher percentages of Māori students.

Northland doctor Kyle Eggleton.

Auckland University associate dean in medical and health sciences Kyle Eggleton. Photo: Supplied / Kyle Eggleton

Urban schools were usually better resourced, because of their larger rolls, Eggleton said.

"A larger percentage of urban school students come from higher socio-economic areas, in contrast to rural schools, which tend to come from more socio-economically deprived areas," he said.

"So if your decile rating places you in a more deprived area, then that's going to contribute to poorer educational outcomes in the rural high school."

Northland's Dargaville High School principal Michael Houghton said shortages of teachers and counsellors, remote locations and poor access to educational providers were challenges faced by all rural schools in New Zealand.

Recruiters and advisors from Auckland University and Ngāti Whātua have visited the school to talk with students about studying health sciences.

This was invaluable, because it was more difficult for the school's students to gain access to tertiary providers or universities, he said.

"We're 40 minutes [drive] from Whangārei and 2.5 hours from Auckland, so anything that involves taking students away is quite a big cost," Houghton said.

"Any student that wants to go on to tertiary education has to move away from home too, so it's sometimes a bigger barrier as well."

It was harder to fill vacancies in remote communities - which was a challenge for the teaching staff, counsellors and external agencies running low on staff, Houghton said.

"The other issue that we're finding at the moment, which has probably been exacerbated, is the teacher shortage. I'm thinking of the rural schools close to us too, and they struggle getting some of the services that would be really beneficial for the students.."

Central Southland College principal Grant Dick said it all came down to the students and helping them follow their strengths - and this could be done better by teachers if they had more funding.

"No one's gonna say 'No' to more funding in any schools - of course it would help provide resources... and probably the best thing it could possibly provide us is to up the staffing and have more teachers onboard.

"All those sorts of things would certainly add to any schools' achievement rates," Dick said.

Eggleton said with rural GP and nurse shortages nationwide, a shift in admission pathways was needed.

Rural schools might need more funding to ensure all students had equitable access to education, he said.

"Our concern is that we've got a rural health workforce that is struggling to recruit enough health practitioners to come in and work in rural settings.

"And what we're faced with in medical programs and health programs generally, is that we have lack of rural-origin students entering into these kind of quite competitive programs.

"So if we're trying to address some of the barriers that people have, we need to be putting extra resources into those schools."

University of Otago associate dean of rural health Garry Nixon said their rural origins programme was set up to help boost the rural workforce.

It offered a pathway for students from rural backgrounds to get into health sciences.

However, more must be done to help rural students gain the qualifications needed to become rural healthcare workers, Nixon said.

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