2019/20 Equity Fellow Nicole Crawford Enhancing student success: Supporting the mental wellbeing of mature-aged, regional and remote university students
Dr Nicole Crawford from the University of Tasmania has received a NCSEHE Equity Fellowship. Read what Nicole has to say about her Fellowship.
My NCSEHE Equity Fellowship will investigate proactive approaches to supporting the mental wellbeing of mature-aged, regional and remote university students in Australia. Significant issues underpin this focus, including the high levels of mental ill-health, which impact on students’ capacity to participate and succeed in higher education. In the recent QILT 2018 Student Experience Survey, ‘health and stress’ was the most cited reason why undergraduate students considered withdrawing, thus impacting on the students personally, and on retention and completion rates.
Regional and remote students are in the national spotlight, but attention is often paid to school leavers. This Fellowship will focus on the experiences of mature-aged students, a significant but under-researched aspect, whilst acknowledging the diversity that exists within the regional and remote cohort. In addition to the personal benefits of university study experienced by mature-aged students, small-scale research suggests that mature-aged students can have a profound impact on their university peers and on their families and communities. Gaining further insights into this group and enhancing their success is vital due to their potential influence on family and community attitudes toward education, on the regional workforce and on building regional sustainability.
In particular, the Fellowship will focus on how mature-aged, regional and remote students manage their mental health. Momentum is gaining in Australia in regard to high-level acknowledgement of health and wellbeing in university settings with recent reports (Baik et al., 2016, 2017; Higher Education Standards Panel, 2018; Orygen, 2017) and international blueprints, such as the Okanagan Charter, which highlight the need for holistic and institution-wide approaches to wellbeing. My contribution will complement institution-wide approaches with nuanced understandings of the needs and challenges of mature-aged, regional and remote students. My project will be student-centred and collaborative at each stage of the research process. The research will take a mixed-methods approach, with quantitative and qualitative phases that will culminate in a student-staff collaboration to develop guidelines for students and staff, and recommendations for policy and practice.
This Fellowship is an amazing opportunity for me. Already, it is shifting my thinking from the local to the national and international, and broadening my attention from teaching practice and research in enabling education to undergraduate students in regional and remote areas across the country. And, this is only the beginning of the project — I am sure that I will be thinking more about policies and strategies at institution and government levels as the year progresses. I’m looking forward to secondments in the Department of Education in Canberra, which are an instrumental part of the Fellowship. As someone who teaches at the coalface, I have little understanding of policymaking, so I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn about it during placements in Canberra. I hope the experience will be mutually beneficial and that policymakers will get a sense of the impact of their policies ‘on the ground’.
A bit about me/what I do
Having grown up in regional Western Australia and being first in my family to attend university, I value opportunities for people in regional and remote areas to participate in higher education.
As an educator, I am driven by principles of equity and inclusion, an ethic of care, and Vincent Tinto’s maxim, ‘access without support is not opportunity’. I have been working in Pre-degree Programs (also known as enabling education and preparation programs) at the University of Tasmania for nearly a decade. These courses are an alternative pathway for students who don’t meet general entry. We aim to develop students’ academic literacies and skills, self-efficacy and their familiarity with the academic culture so that they can make a smooth transition to uni courses. A lot of the students are mature-aged, regional or remote, and many are from multiple equity groups; their mental health and wellbeing is increasingly on our radar and it is an area in which we endeavour to be proactive and inclusive in implementing strategies to support the students. While my Fellowship topic is informed by national priorities and research, it also stems from my daily teaching practice.