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Re-framing the gap year for regional students in NSW

10 December 2019
A group of the country's leading education researchers and equity practitioners have received funding from the New South Wales Government for a project aiming to help regional high school students make decisions about addressing and resolving gap year needs.

A new website featuring some of the fruits of their collaborative efforts has been launched this week and can be viewed here: https://astar.tv/gapyear/.

Researchers and widening participation equity practitioners from the University of Sydney, University of Canberra, University of Wollongong and the Country Education Foundation of Australia were granted more than half a million dollars from the NSW Department of Education to establish new forms of supportive digital communications for regional students and parents.

The project is not intended to actively dissuade or encourage regional students to take a gap year. The non-branded resources are designed to provide information to help regional students and parents think through what they might want from a gap year and correct known misconceptions about gap years and university experiences.

The topics that the resources will feature include the financial and social costs of going to university and issues associated with indecisions about going to university, what to study and careers.

“For many students, a gap year is a necessary, well-reasoned and ultimately helpful event. But it’s not the automatic ‘magic bullet’ cure for post-school anxieties, indecisions, aspirations and needs that some students might think it to be. So, it is vital students and their parents are provided with accurate and easily accessible information to make their decisions,” said project lead, Dr Samantha McMahon from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

With evidence showing that that regional students who take a gap year are much less likely to transition to university at the end of the gap year, compared with their metropolitan counterparts, Dr McMahon said the project team hopes the project might lead to an improvement in transition to university rates of regional students.

NSW Minister for Education the Hon. Sarah Mitchell echoed these sentiments: “For some students, this time may be a vital stepping stone on their way to further study. Research, however, tells us that for many, the longer they are out of study, the less likely it is that they will go back. We want our students to be supported to pursue their own education journey, no matter where they live.”

The $550,000 project, which has been funded until 2021, will involve the design, production, delivery and evaluation of communications to gap year decisionmakers (students and parents).

The communications – which will take the form of email communications, videos, webinars, podcasts, brochures and other interactive activities – are designed to help regional students better understand the pros and cons of taking a gap year. The communications will not include any university branding.

“Our aim is to create publicly available resources that reduce the burden on parents and students of independently researching and comparing information regarding gap years and university participation,” Dr McMahon said.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence, said: “We are really excited to be working in partnership with the Department of Education, the University of Canberra, the University of Wollongong, and the Country Education Foundation of Australia to improve the Regional Transitions to University program. Creating educational opportunities for young people from every part of NSW is one of the most important causes for the University of Sydney.”

Declaration: This project has been funded by the NSW Department of Education’s ‘Regional Transitions to University Grant’.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)

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