14 SES 01 A, Rurality and Spatial Representation in Educational Research
The paper explores why and how rural deprivation should be taken into fair access policy to higher education (HE). It challenges the current use of national deprivation indexes in this policy, stressing a deficit view of the rural. It sits within the emerging literature highlighting the need of rural education research (Roberts and Fuqua, forthcoming). From a Scottish case study, it illustrates how the use of national deprivation indexes can have adverse effects on access to HE for rural communities. It shows how contextual considerations of rural education research could mitigate these effects and could enrich policy-making.
Fair access to higher education refers to admissions processes that ensure that students of all backgrounds who have the ability to study at university have the opportunity to do so. Motivated by the over-representation of Scottish students from affluent backgrounds in Scottish universities, the Scottish government has a clear ambition on access to HE: to have students from the 20% most deprived communities representing 20% of all entrants by 2030. It is the national deprivation index that determines which communities are the most deprived.
Deprivation indexes are widely used in policy-making (Nutley and Webb, 2000; Pampalon et al., 2012). First, they allow to identify communities that may have more need for support. Second, they allow to evaluate the impact of government policies on crime, health, transport, or education. These indexes aggregate multidimensional aspects of deprivation experienced by communities, but they are known to be more able to describe the nature of deprivation in urban areas than in rural areas (Skerratt et al., 2014; Fecht et al., 2017). In this paper, we show that the use of deprivation indices could have an adverse effect on access to HE for rural learners, leading us to advocate in the first instance the urgent need of a better understanding of rural deprivation in fair access to HE policy.
Rurality is often viewed as urban’s ‘other’ and seen as ‘a form of marginalisation alongside many other labels associated with disadvantage’ (Roberts and Green, 2013; Cuervo, 2016). The focus on access to HE from a rural point of view is still sparse ‘as opposed to studies on ethnicity or race’ (Montgomery, 2020). This is puzzling as a rural gap in terms of enrolment, attainment and completion at tertiary level is reported widely, including in the European Union (Eurostat, 2017; Echazarra and Radinger, 2019). The rural factor is rarely taken into account in fair access with the notable exception of Australia where the performance indicators for target (equity) groups have included one for people from regional and remote areas since 1990.
In the second instance, this paper explores how rural deprivation should be taken into account into fair access to HE policy. Specifically, by extending the methodology initiated by Lasselle and Johnson (2020), it explains how a national deprivation index could be combined with a specific rural deprivation index (‘capturing variations within rurality’ as highlighted by Bæck (2016)). It argues that it is this combination that has the potential to alleviate the effect of the current national deprivation indexes on rural communities’ access to HE. Scotland is used as a case study, but the flexible approach adopted in the paper could be replicated elsewhere.
The paper builds upon research presented at ECER 2016 and Lasselle and Johnson (2020). This research showed that Scottish publicly funded secondary schools located in rural areas are not well served by national deprivation indexes. It constructed a school index that levels the playing field between rural and urban schools in a HE context. This paper expands this research by including spatial information about the communities in which learners reside in the school marker. Specifically, we question the use of a unique deprivation index because of its potential detrimental effect on rural learners’ access to HE and we recommend the use of a school marker in fair access to HE policy alongside the national deprivation index. Our methodology is simple. We intersect a location indicator with four measures issued from statistics well-known to policy-makers capturing deprivation at school level: the proportion of pupils attending the school and living in the first quintile of the national deprivation index, the proportion of pupils attending the school and living in the second quintile of the national deprivation index, the proportion of pupils attending the school and registered for free school meals (a proxy for of income) and the 3-year average progression rate to HE of the school (a proxy for educational deprivation). We compute the Scottish national average for each statistic. We then compare the school statistic with this national average and deduce whether the school experiences a relatively high level of a type of deprivation from these statistics. The location indicator is not about the population’s geographical location the school is in, but the pupils’ geographical location the school is in. This allows us to distinguish schools as predominantly remote, predominantly rural and predominantly urban. We move away from the dichotomy rural schools / urban schools and explicitly consider pupils’ residence. The secondary school data relating to the first and second quintiles of the national deprivation index and free school meals are publicly available. The data relating to the progression rate to HE was obtained via a request to the Scottish Government Education Directorate.
Our findings are threefold. First, our paper outlines the potential consequences on HE access for rural learners when a narrow concept of deprivation is considered. Second, we document the variation in terms of deprivation within rurality in Scotland. We advocate the need for contextualisation of rural education research and move away from the deficit view of the rural. Finally, our paper suggests a school marker capturing rural deprivation and ensuring better parity between predominantly rural, remote and urban schools. Our simple methodology could allow its replication in other parts of the UK or other countries. It should also encourage policy-makers to revisit the sole use of national deprivation indexes in achieving equal opportunities to access HE.
Bæck, Unn-Doris K. (2016) Rural Location and Academic Success—Remarks on Research, Contextualisation and Methodology, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 60:4, 435-448. Bridge Group (2019) The influence of place: Geographical isolation and progression to higher education. Bridge Group. Commission on Widening Access (2016) Technical paper on measures and targets. Croxford, L. & Raffe, D. (2013) Differentiation and social segregation of UK higher education 1996-2010, Oxford Review of Education, 39(2), 172-192. Cuervo, H. (2016) Understanding social justice in rural education (Palgrave Macmillan). Echazarra, A. & Radinger, T. (2019) Learning in rural schools: insights from Pisa, Talis and the literature. OECD Education Working Paper No. 196. OECD Publishing, Paris. Fecht, D., Jones, A., Hill, T., Lindfield, T., Thomson, R., Hansell, A. & Shukla, R. (2017) Inequalities in rural communities: adapting national deprivation indices for rural settings, Journal of Public Health, 40(2), 419-425. Kintrea, K. (2018) Disadvantage and place in Scottish secondary education. CR&DALL Working Paper, WP301/2018. Lasselle, L. & Johnson, M. (forthcoming), Levelling the playing field between rural schools and urban schools in a HE context: A Scottish case study, British Educational Research Journal. Montgomery, C. (2020) Exploring rurality and ethnicity in globalised higher education: ideologies, intersections and narratives in doctoral research theses, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 50(7), 978-994. Nutley, S. & Webb, J. (2000) Evidence and the policy process. In: Davies, H.T.O., Nutley, S.M. and Smith, P.C. (Eds) What Works? Evidence-based Policy and Practice in Public Services. Bristol: Policy Press. Pampalon R, Hamel D, Gamache P et al. An area-based material and social deprivation index for public health in Québec and Canada. Can J Public Health 2012;103(8 Suppl 2):S17–22. Roberts, P. & Green, B. (2013) Researching rural places: On social Justice and Rural Education, Qualitative Inquiry, 19(10), 765-774. Roberts, P. & Fuqua, M. (forthcoming) Ruraling Education Research: Connections between Rurality and the Disciplines of Educational Research Schafft, K.A. (2016) Rural education as rural development: Understanding the rural-school-community well-being linkage in a 21st century policy context, Peabody Journal of Education, 91(2), 137-154. Skerratt, S. et al. (2014) 2014 Rural Scotland in focus report (Edinburgh, Rural Policy Centre, SRUC). Scottish Government (2018) Rural Scotland: Key facts 2018. Scottish Government (2014) First Minister – Programme For Government. Ulubaşoğlu, M. A. & Cardak, B. A. (2007) International comparisons of rural-urban educational attainment: Data and determinants, European Economic Review, 51, 1828 – 1857.
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