The loneliness of the long-distance student

A recent Federal Government report found fewer students from the bush were making it to the city. Sinead McComish reports on the challenges.
A recent Federal Government report found fewer students from the bush were making it to the city. Sinead McComish reports on the challenges.


University can be a lonely place for students who move away from home to study.

With deadlines, financial issues and the pressure to party every night, students can easily find themselves in a downward spiral.

A recent Federal Government report analysing accommodation for regional students found fewer students from the bush were making it to the city.

The proportion of students from regional areas studying on-campus has decreased from 80 per cent in 2006 to 63 per cent in 2016.

Mitchell Arthur made the move from Warrnambool in Victoria’s south-west to Monash University in 2015 to study science.

He lived on campus Monash’s Howitt Hall for two years but found it a struggle with homesickness and stress.

“It’s a big change moving from the country to the city. I’m lucky that I had a smooth transition and enjoy living in Melbourne, but others don’t always have the same experience,” he said.

During his second year at Howitt Hall, Mr Arthur witnessed an incident where a student was found walking around the corridors with a knife.

This student was lonely, considering self-harm and was helped by staff members.

According to a 2017 Headspace study, 35 per cent of students had experienced self-harm or suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months.

Rowan Tan, associate director of student housing and finance at Swinburne University, has noticed an increasing number of students from rural areas experiencing anxiety and depression.

In 2016, almost 30 per cent of Swinburne’s first-year students left their courses.

“Generally, students will terminate their licence agreement due to pressure of studies, poor mental health, financial reasons and homesickness,” Ms Tan said.

The university has 23 trained resident advisors on hand to provide care for those living on campus.

They offer an after-hours response service and work closely with security services to respond to emergencies.

Ms Tan said moving away from home was an important step in a young person’s life.

“Living on residences offers students opportunities to meet people from diverse backgrounds, learn to be respectful of diversity and develop leadership skills,” she said.

“While living at home can be easier and comfortable, moving away from home teaches students reliance and the ability to problem solve.”

Georgia Goldsworthy has lived at Swinburne for the past three years.

In her first year, Georgia remembers feeling lonely and being tempted to move back home to Ballarat.

“I felt like I didn’t fit in with the group of people I was living with, I thought moving home would make me feel better,” Ms Goldsworthy said.

“It was a rough couple of months, but I ended up finding a support system that helped me through and three years later I’m still here and happy.”

Johnathan Wood is one of the residential life coordinators.

He says many students get part-time jobs while a few are lucky to receive scholarships.

The average cost of on-campus student accommodation in Australia is $233 per week over a 46-week contract period.

“Students are told university is the be-all-and-end-all, obviously, university is great opportunity, but it’s not meant for everyone, and that’s okay,” Mr Wood said.

“These students should be working on furthering their education with a trade or learning about basic living skills so that they can go into different jobs and businesses.”

He also believes many rural students struggle with the lifestyle change when they move onto the residence.

“These students spend all their life developing their identity in their community, then they move to a new place and that identity is lost and they have to start again.”