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Struggles for rural students

A recent study from the University of Auckland has revealed that students who attended rural and regional schools are disadvantaged when applying to enter medical programmes in New Zealand, due to lower exam marks.

Published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the study compares NCEA and UE attainment rates across New Zealand high schools from 2012 to 2021 and reveals that NCEA and University Entrance [UE] rates were about 15 per cent lower in rural high schools than in urban high schools.

Dr Kyle Eggleton, Associate Dean Rural at the University of Auckland and the study’s lead author, said the lower UE attainment levels for rural schools means it is likely that rural students will have greater difficulty in entering medical programmes and this inequity is worse for rural Māori students.

Meanwhile, Māori students who were enrolled at Kura Kaupapa and Māori boarding schools had higher pass rates than those attending “mainstream schools”.

The study put lower rates of NCEA and UE results down to rural schools being predominately in “socioeconomically deprived areas”.

Although the study’s findings are based on aggregate data, and not all data collected related to all students enrolled at rural schools, the research concludes it is a “systemic problem”.

“The study’s findings have important implications for the future of medical education in Aotearoa, New Zealand,” Dr Eggleton said.

The following recommendations taken from the research include:

Rural entry pathways need to have an equity focus, so students have additional support once they enter medical programmes.

Rural Māori students should be targeted in Māori admission pathways, with additional support given to address any educational disadvantage.

There should be pre-programme preparatory courses and interventions in rural high schools.

Importantly, rural high schools should have increased funding and resources.

“It is clear that more needs to be done to address the educational attainment inequities faced by rural students, particularly rural Māori students,” Dr Eggleton said.

“This will require a fundamental shift in the way that medical programmes are designed and delivered, with a focus on equity as well as workforce needs.”

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