Increasing opportunities for people from all walks of life to attend Australian universities and lifting aspiration are two key aims of QUT’s newest Fellow Susan Lamb, who joined the institution earlier this year.
The former federal Labor MP for Longman, Ms Lamb believes every person in Australia, regardless of socio-economic group, gender or age, deserves an equal chance to participate in higher education.
Ms Lamb connected with QUT Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Margaret Sheil when she was an MP, identifying aspiration in post-secondary education as a major issue.
“During my term we discussed my goal of contributing to policy and intervention strategies that could increase the participation rates of school leavers and working-age people,” Ms Lamb said.
Nationally, about 60 per cent of young Australians enrol at university within a few years of leaving school but in remote, rural and regional Australia, the figures tell a different story.
Students face a variety of issues that can ultimately determine their aspiration, their participation and their level of educational attainment.
In many communities, particularly regional and city fringe areas, students face additional issues. Low levels of household income, limited access to transport, affordable housing and health care combined with deeper, more complex factors can mute aspiration and build aversion.
Adding to these factors are family influences and culture – which can often affect a young person’s decision to pursue a higher education.
But Ms Lamb said young people were not the only focus. In reflecting on the current health crisis, it was easy to see the value of a university education.
“There is a real focus on front line careers right now. The vital work of those in the health and education sectors has demonstrated the value and importance of professionals such as researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, and teachers,” Ms Lamb said.
“We are also seeing the world of work change dramatically. Many health and education sector jobs have already experienced an increase in the minimum level of qualifications required by regulatory bodies and as a result of new technologies, many jobs will transform.”
With an anticipated 90 per cent of the new jobs in the next five years requiring an education beyond school level, for those already in the workforce, universities will play a massive role in the outer urban regions in encouraging people to aspire to higher education.
“To do this, we must first understand the nuanced factors that inform a decision to participate in post-secondary study in this region and what it is that drives these factors?
“Is it purely the ancillary factors people face that is creating this disparity, or is there something more fundamental?
“Once we understand this we can start developing strategies and interventions to assist in neutralising or overcoming those drivers and introduce a series of concrete initiatives to improve participation rates and ultimately transform lives.”
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