Freedom, Aspiration and Informed Choice in Rural Higher Education
Why They are Saying 'No'
Keywords:freedom, choice, aspiration, opportunity, community engagement, social exclusion, inclusion
Using recent discussions of Isaiah Berlin's two concepts of freedom as a starting point, this paper poses and attempts to answer the question, to what extent are those living in rural and remote communities 'free' to pursue their dreams of higher education? What would count as adequate educational opportunity for those embracing regional and rural lifestyles?
Freedom conceived as the ability to pursue options (option-freedom) is sensitive to a variety of factors, including the number of options available, the character of those options, and the nature of an actor's access to options (Pettit 2003). Many factors in a rural context compromise the number and character of educational options. Sparse populations restrict the number of programs and courses that can be offered sustainably. Distance education is not always an attractive option for those from low SES backgrounds who lack already-formed academic habits. All too often the local university becomes the only possible provider of face-to-face higher education for rural communities.
To treat regional and rural campuses as providers responding to sustainable local demand, assumes that local communities stand ready to articulate their educational requirements. Yet individuals and communities previously excluded from educational opportunity tend not to know what they don't know. The perceived rewards of holding a qualification may be remote to students who are the first members of their family to attend university. Individuals committed to rural lifestyles may be unable or unwilling to relocate in order to reap the full benefits of their educational investments. All of this suggests that rural campuses must act not only as brokers between rural populations and higher education institutions, but as educators of public opinion and shapers of local educational aspirations.
This paper explores some creative ways in which small university campuses might interact with local communities to shape aspirations and flexibly deliver sustainable academic programs (face-to-face and through blended learning) for all members of the local populace, from low SES students to rural practitioners seeking local opportunities for continuing professional development. It is argued that regional and rural campuses need to demonstrate critical self-awareness as they responsibly model higher education and its benefits to local populations.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Susan R. Robinson
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