Study uncovers mental wellbeing of regional and remote adult learners

Research into the experiences of mature-aged university students has found they value connection and inclusion for mental wellbeing and academic success.

The findings have been highlighted in a report released today (Wednesday, 21 April) by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) with the University of Tasmania’s support.

It follows a year-long, Australia-wide study involving around 1800 students who are either living in, or originate from, a regional or remote area.

Report author and Equity Fellow Dr Nicole Crawford, who is an Adjunct Lecturer with the University and also a Senior Research Fellow with NCSEHE at Curtin University, led the research.

Prior to this project, Dr Crawford had been teaching into the University College pre-degree programs for almost a decade.

Dr Crawford investigated two key themes – the factors which impact the mental wellbeing of undergraduate adult learners, and proactive approaches which can support it.

“Mature-age students bring unique strengths and experiences, but often face competing commitments and stressors which can compromise their mental wellbeing and academic success,” Dr Crawford said.

“To provide effective support, we must understand – and respond to – students’ complex circumstances.”

In addition to outlining measures and inclusive strategies that counter stressors experienced by students, the report also revealed adult learners in and from regional and remote areas are a diverse cohort with varying circumstances.

“A major theme emerging in the survey and subsequent interviews was the importance of the teaching and learning experience; that is, students’ everyday interactions with the curriculum, staff and peers, and the learning environment,” Dr Crawford said

“The participants in this study did not request ‘feel-good’ initiatives, nor did they expect technological wizardry. They wanted ‘the basics’ to be done well; notably, effective communication, inclusive practices and course design, clear expectations around study load, relevant assessments, and a focus on online delivery.”

A number of recommendations have been outlined in the report to help guide universities in better supporting adult learners in regional and remote areas.

“Mental wellbeing is far more than an individual student’s ‘problem’ or the sole responsibility of student support services; it must be considered at all layers and levels in the university ecosystem,” Dr Crawford said.

Associate Professor Andrea Carr, Academic Lead at University College congratulated Dr Crawford for her important work.

“This research will inform the ways in which we design and deliver our courses, and also how we can best engage with our regional students to ensure they have a positive and well-supported higher education experience,” Associate Professor Carr said.

The full report, On the radar: Supporting the mental wellbeing of mature-aged students in regional and remote Australia can be found at:

Pictured: Dr Nicole Crawford