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Challenges of Rural Students in Urban Universities

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Karachi University Business Research Journal
Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83
ISSN (e): 2709-2674
73
Higher Education Challenges...
Karachi University Business Research Journal
Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83
ISSN (e): 2709-2674
74
university of Karachi alumn...
Karachi University Business Research Journal
Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83
ISSN (e): 2709-2674
75
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Challenges of Rural Students in Urban Universities

  1. 1. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 73 Higher Education Challenges for Rural Students in Urban Universities: A Qualitative Exploratory Study Sharjeel Ahmed* Department of Education, Iqra University, Karachi, sharjeel.ahmad18@gmail.com Ayesha Iqbal Department of Education, Iqra University, Karachi Bushra Urooj Department of Education, Iqra University, Karachi Muhammad Faisal Department of Education, Iqra University, Karachi ABSTRACT Rural students are like a marginalized sector of the mainstream classrooms of urban universities. They have their own voices, issues and concerns. The present qualitative exploratory study was conducted to identify the challenges faced by rural students seeking higher education at urban universities in Pakistan. 10 male students and 5 female students who belonged to different rural areas of Pakistan and were studying at an M.Phil./MS level at a private sector urban university in Karachi participated in the study. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions. Interviews were transcribed and thematic analysis was conducted to find out the patterns across the data set. As a result, six themes emerged: “social adjustment challenges”, “travelling and accommodation issues”, “problem of time management”, “English language and ICT challenges”, “lack of cooperation from the faculty and administration”, and “rural students require special support”. Results indicated that rural students face a range of problems when they are enrolled at urban universities for higher education. Recommendations were made for the administration of urban universities and also for the prospect rural students at urban universities. A comparative study can be conducted in future in terms of different experiences of the rural students studying at different urban universities across Pakistan. Keywords: Rural Students’ Perspectives, Rural Students’ Problems, Higher Education Challenges INTRODUCTION The access to higher education is considered necessary for a nation’s intellectual growth which ultimately contributes to a nation’s progress in several other aspects including social and economic development (Baum & Payea, 2007; Murray, 2009; Perna, 2003). The developed economies have the leading higher education universities in the world today (Bothwell and Grove, 2017). The availability of a big number of universities providing higher education in a developing country like Pakistan is, in fact, a good sign (“List of universities in Pakistan”, n.d.). They have served as the alma mater for numbers of Pakistani intellectuals and prominent figures around the globe (“List of
  2. 2. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 74 university of Karachi alumni”, n.d.; “University of Sindh alumni”, n.d.; “List of university of Punjab people”, n.d.). For the people living in rural areas, the urban areas have remained a centre for attraction in many aspects including education. The rural students are generally found interested in seeking education in urban colleges and universities despite the availability of public and private colleges and universities in their own localities (Pheko, Monteiro, Tlhabano & Mphele, 2014; Wang, 2018). The quality education factor has been found to be one of the many reasons behind their choice to study at an urban university or college (Va & Seyhak, 2015). While it might be considered a positive factor that urban universities have a good image in the eyes of rural students, it’s quite discouraging for them that there are numbers of problems the rural students face when they get enrolled in an urban university (Guiffrida, 2008). Rural students are like a marginalized sector of the mainstream classrooms of urban universities. They have their own voices, issues and concerns which are usually neglected since the majority of the students belong to urban centres who are usually familiar with a typical environment of urban universities. The present study provided the rural students an opportunity to speak about their concerns, share their experiences and highlight the problems they face when they seek higher education at an urban university. Problem Statement In Pakistan, lots of rural students travel to the urban centres for seeking higher education, especially to obtain M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. To the researchers’ knowledge, the studies which could bring to the fore the challenges rural students face in Pakistan when they pursue higher education at urban universities are almost non-existent. The present study aims to fill this research gap by using a qualitative research design. The results will provide a starting point for further exploration regarding the issues highlighted in the study. Research Question The present study sought to answer the following research question: What major challenges and problems do rural students face when they pursue higher education at urban universities in Pakistan? LITERATURE REVIEW Several studies conducted in different countries around the world have investigated the challenges faced by rural students in urban schools, colleges and universities (Pheko et al., 2014; Va & Seyhak, 2015; Xiulan, 2015; Baloyi, 2015; Fleming & Grace, 2017). A research synthesis done by Guiffrida (2008) has shown that many rural students are academically, socially, and culturally underprepared to initially handle college life at urban universities. Life and cultural practices in urban institutes have been found to be completely different from rural areas (Xiulan, 2015). A study of the experiences of students migrating from rural-turban centres in Botswana revealed that the majority of students experienced cultural shocks and a number of environmental and private stressors during the first two years of university (Pheko et al., 2014). A case study of the experiences
  3. 3. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 75 of a Unisa student, in the rural areas of the Republic of South Africa, identified some challenges facing open and distance learning students in rural areas. The study provided tips to improve the Union’s literacy support strategy (Baloyi, 2015). Similarly, a study conducted to explore the elements that influence rural students’ transition to tertiary education in Australia showed that as the positive view of college grew, students became more confident in understanding and choosing after- school choices. Stressing the strong ties between these young people and their families and communities, students have emphasized the need to continually focus on the unique aspects of rural youth to ensure their educational and professional future (Fleming & Grace, 2017). A study conducted by Howlett, Partridge and Belov (2017) examined the role the public libraries can play within the community to help university students with educational needs especially local students and remote researchers in Australia who are challenging universities for geographical, social and technical isolation from urban areas. Results showed that universities and public libraries have the opportunity to collaborate and to support the success of local students. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY We have used a qualitative research design in this study to gain a rich and in-depth understanding of the perspectives of rural students regarding the challenges they face at an urban university. Data Collection Method Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with the rural students seeking higher education at a private sector urban university in Karachi, a mega city of Pakistan. Open-ended questions were asked from the participants. The sample size was N=15. There were 10 male participants and 5 female participants in the study. 14 of them were completing their M.Phil. in Education whereas 1 of them was pursuing MS in English. All of them were studying on a part-time basis at the same university on a weekend program as all of them were full-time employed. 11 of them (7 males and 4 females) were in the age group of 30 to 40 years whereas 4 of them (3 males and 1 female) were in the age group of 20 to 30 years. 6 of them (5 males and 1 female) were single whereas 9 of them (5 males and 4 females) were married. 11 interviews were in English whereas 4 interviews were in Urdu which were translated into English prior to coding process. Data Analysis Technique Interviews were transcribed verbatim and data was analysed using “thematic analysis” following the six steps suggested by Braun and Clarke (2006). The steps are: Familiarizing oneself with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and producing the report (Braun & Clarke, 2006). FINDINGS As a result of thematic analysis, six themes emerged across the data set. These were: “social adjustment challenges”, “travelling and accommodation issues”, “problem of time management”, “English language and ICT challenges”, “lack of cooperation from the faculty and administration”, and “rural students require special support”.
  4. 4. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 76 Social Adjustment Challenges One of the major themes that emerged in the responses of the majority of the respondents was the social adjustment issue. For the rural students it was difficult to adjust themselves in an urban university environment. Dress code, medium of communication, openness of students, frequent male-female interaction, difficulty in getting into a social circle, interaction with teachers, nervousness, all were the issues that they came across. Most of them, although with some difficulty, adjusted themselves in the environment with the passage of time. One of the respondents said: “…to adjust myself in a new environment was the first challenging factor… to understand the overall atmosphere of university and develop understanding with the teachers… was the second most important challenge that I came across.” Talking about his initial nervousness, one of the respondents said: “Initially I was bit nervous that I was, you know, a rural area student moving to the urban area.” A little bit similar experience was shared by another respondent who said: “…somehow I felt very anxious when I entered the university, when I faced the class, lots of students from different cultures were sitting there.” Coping with the new things at urban university was difficult as one of the respondents said: “…it was difficult for me to cope with the things… to deal with the situation, with students, with the management, with the faculty members and deal with the assignments, projects, quizzes.” Openness or frankness in the environment was an entirely new phenomenon for one of the respondents. She said: “The situation and culture of my own locality is totally different from here. There the people are not so open. There we have limitations between girls and boys. I mean I found the people very modern here…” With the passage of time, most of the respondents reported to have adjusted themselves. One of the respondents said: “…but with the passage of time I became used to all these things but it was difficult in the beginning.” Another respondent said: “…it took me a bit of time to adjust into the environment that is provided here.” Travelling and Accommodation Issues
  5. 5. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 77 Many respondents faced problems due to the lack of accommodation facility in the university. Rural students usually require hostels to avoid themselves from frequent travelling issues. They come from far and remote areas to attend classes at urban universities and in case they do not have hostels to stay in, they face problems that affect their studies too. One of the respondents said: “…here we are not provided with the hostel facility… this was the fundamental challenge.” Another respondent said: “There is one major thing which is lacking in this university and it is hostel. They are not providing any sort of hostel…” A similar concern was shared by another respondent who said: “Major problem is the lack of accommodation facility, hostel…” While suggesting the management of urban universities to provide hostel facility to the rural students, one of the respondents said: “The urban universities should give hostel facility to rural students. The hostel rent should be as minimum as possible so that they can afford it.” Travelling to the university was seen by many respondents as one of the major difficulties. Most of the rural students travel from their own localities to the urban centres for education. To travel a long distance to reach a university located in an urban centre was the problem almost unanimously shared by the respondents. One of the respondents said: “…students travel a lot from interior to Karachi. They have to travel a lot and so they actually face a lots of problems.” Problem of Time Management Managing time for travelling, learning, assignments as well as job was a big problem reported by some of the respondents. In fact, quality learning requires quality time. One of the respondents said: “It was very difficult to get time for studies along with our job. We were very much busy in our job. We had lots of assignments. We had to complete our job assignments along with these assignments. We had to manage our studies. That was very difficult.” While sharing how it becomes difficult to manage time for studies and to learn things along with one’s job, another respondent said: “It becomes difficult to learn things along with job. I mean I‟m working at some position… plus I have to do study as well. So this… becomes difficult for us to manage things.” English Language and ICT Challenges
  6. 6. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 78 Due to the lack of English language proficiency and unfamiliarity with ICT, it was very difficult for some respondents (rural students) to carry on their learning journey at an urban university. In urban universities, mostly the lectures are delivered in English language and the ICT is used while teaching the content and assigning the tasks to the students. This serves as a challenge for rural students. One of the respondents said: “…English language barrier is there...” Another respondent said: “…challenge was how to work with students who have command on English… we don‟t have command on English…” While sharing how English was a problem for rural students, one of the respondents said: “…the medium of instruction was totally in English which is although good but created problems for us.” Another respondent said: “English language problems are there for rural students.” While talking about her first encounter with ICT, one of the respondents said: “…I didn‟t know how to make a PPT.” Another respondent said: “…using the software SPSS which required applying many statistical formulas was difficult for me… much use of technology I experienced here.” Lack of Cooperation from the Faculty and Administration Some respondents shared the factors that were, in their opinion, discouraging for the present and the upcoming prospect rural students and they call for serious attention from the management of urban universities. One of the respondents said: “…student affairs department… cooperation was missing there… when you need, for example, your admit card, when you are not having that admit card, they were not much willing to give you the permission letter that you could show to the security guard or any other person.” Regarding experience with the student affairs department, another respondent said:
  7. 7. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 79 “I‟d like to highlight the fact that whenever we call them, you know, you have to call 100 times before they will pick up your call.” Regarding his experience with the teachers, one of the respondents said: “…some of the teachers were quite discouraging like the teacher Mr.… who… used to speak in English and he had good knowledge but he didn‟t deliver the subject in a better way. He always used to say that no mercy at all. He was like dictator. His style was autocratic.” Regarding his experience with the classmates, one of the respondents said: “There are many students who have a positive behaviour. And there are also many who are away from us. They behave with us as if we were aliens because our dress, our way of talking, all these things show that we belong to rural areas…” Regarding his experience with the gate-keepers, one of the respondents said: “I think here improvement is required… the gate keepers should keep in mind that the students are not meant to be strictly controlled. They test us if we were aliens or third nation. „You cannot come from here‟, „you cannot cross from here‟, „why did you do this?‟ These are the statements which they use. The gate keeper behaves like a vice chancellor of the university. This should not be the way.” Rural Students Require Special Support Due to their diverse social and cultural background, the lack of facilities in their own localities, their lack of exposure to the modern methods of teaching, their unfamiliarity with ICT and other factors, the rural students, when admitted into an urban university, require special support from teachers, management and all other staff. This view was commonly shared by many respondents. One of the respondents said: “Every class should be managed in such a way that the faculty members should be focusing on urban areas and they should be focusing and giving a separate and individual attention and special attention to the people who come from rural areas so that they can also come up to expectations of faculty and management.” Another respondent said: “I recommend urban universities to support rural areas‟ students because they are coming. So many troubles they are facing in rural areas. When they are coming, they should cooperate with them.” A similar suggestion was given by another respondent who said: “They should help them in a cooperative manner and also try to solve their problems because they are, you know, very ambitious to get higher education from urban universities...”
  8. 8. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 80 Thematic Map DISCUSSION Rural students are like a marginalized sector of the mainstream classrooms of urban universities. They look like a minority. They have their voices and concerns which are usually neglected due to the majority of the students who belong to urban centres, are familiar with a typical environment of an urban university and usually go along well with the urban universities’ teaching and non-teaching staff. In the present study, we provided the rural students an opportunity to speak about their concerns, share their experiences and highlight the problems they face when they seek higher education at an urban university. Findings of the study revealed that the rural students face a range of problems while studying at an urban university. One of the problems they face is social adjustment. They find an entirely different environment when they enter into an urban university. This environment is different than what they have in their own localities in terms of dress and outfit, gender interaction, friends’ circle and the communication style. These findings are similar to the previous studies conducted by Desa, Yusooff and Kadir (2012), Nilsson, Butler, Shouse and Joshi (2008) and Sandhu and Asrabadi (1994) as cited by Pheko et al. (2014). Another problem which rural students face is travelling. They have to travel a long distance to reach an urban university and hence in case the hostel facility is not available at the university they get issues with the time management and physical tiredness too. They also face time management issues in terms of university assignments and projects. Besides this, English language and the frequent use of ICT in the classrooms also pose a challenge for the rural students. They are not proficient in English language and the use of ICT. Similar findings were revealed in the studies conducted by Pan,Wong, Chan and Joubert (2008) and Sovanak, Vouchsieng, and Navy (2018). Further, there are some factors which discourage the rural students in an urban university. One of such factors is the way the student affairs department and other non-teaching staff behave with them. Some of the respondents reported that they were not treated well by these people. Moreover, few
  9. 9. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 81 teachers were also not cooperative with them in terms of guiding them and helping them to cope with their learning difficulties. These findings were not found in the previous studies as per the authors’ knowledge. Finally, most of the respondents share their common suggestion that the urban universities should give special attention to rural students keeping in view their sacrifice to come to urban universities, their will to learn, their special needs and problems due to their diverse background, and thus motivate the upcoming rural students to join urban universities for higher education. RECOMMENDATIONS Results of the present study showed that the case of the rural students is not the same as the case of other students in the urban universities’ classrooms. It implies that the rural students cannot go well with one-size-fits-all approach taken at urban universities. Since the majority of the students in urban universities belong to the same urban centres, they give the impression that everything is fine in the classroom, everyone is understanding the content shared by the teachers during teaching, their lectures, their use of English and ICT. But there remains a vacuum in the form of rural students which serve as an apparent minority of the class. On their level, the learning is not going on the same way as is the case with the urban students. They are facing lots of problems. Hence, the management of the urban universities should identify and address their problems in order to let them make the most of their learning at an urban university. In the light of the results of the study, we make the following recommendations:  The management of urban universities should address the needs of the rural students, identify the problems they are facing, try to help them out and prepare a separate SOP or mechanism for dealing with such students.  The teaching faculty should prepare their teaching content taking holistic approach keeping in view the problems of rural students.  The urban students should keep good ties with their colleagues who belong to rural students and should cooperate with them and help them.’  In urban universities, the rural students should not waste their time in unnecessary things. They should give extra time to their studies, use the internet for more exposure and seek the guidance of their urban colleagues to go along with the pace of learning at urban universities. Directions for Future Research The present study was conducted to highlight the problems faced by the rural students seeking a higher education at an urban university. The study was limited to the experiences of 15 rural students who were doing M.Phil./MS in a private sector urban university in Karachi. The future studies in this area can target the difference of experiences among male and female students by conducting a comparative study based on gender. Further, a comparative study can also be conducted in terms of different experiences of the rural students studying in different urban universities. Moreover, the present study can also lead to the studies on the learning patterns of the rural students as compared to urban students. CONCLUSION
  10. 10. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 82 The objective of the present study was to identify the problems faced by rural students seeking a higher education in urban universities. The aims were to help the prospect rural students to take a proactive approach before joining an urban university, to let the management of the urban universities understand the needs and concerns of the rural students and make necessary arrangement for them and finally to give voice to experiences of the rural students who apparently serve as a minority or a marginalized sector at urban universities. In the light of the results of the present study we learnt that there are multiple problems which are faced by the rural students in urban universities. They come with great expectation here, to get a quality education, to have a good exposure of learning. But when they join, they come across several challenge including social adjustment issue, travelling issue, time management issue, English language and ICT barriers and some disappointments. The experiences and voices of the rural students call for a serious attention from the management of the urban universities. They should design a holistic system of education and management at urban universities in order to mainstream the rural students, let them properly come under their umbrella, make the most of their learning and become successful and thus go back happily to their own localities and motivate others to come to the urban universities too. Hence, the rural students require a sort of special attention in urban universities and call for a customized approach in terms of learning, teaching and administration aspects. REFERENCES Addie, J. P. D. (2017). From the urban university to universities in urban society. Regional Studies, 51(7), 1089-1099. Baloyi, G. P. (2015). Learner Support Challenges Faced by Adult Open and Distance Learning Students. Studies of Tribes and Tribals, 13(1), 59-65. Baum, S., & Payea, K. (2007). Education pays the benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.382.6913&rep=rep1&type=pdf Bothwell, E., & Grove, J. (2017, September 5). World university rankings [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/world-university-rankings-2018-results- announced Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101 Contreras, F. (2009). Sin papeles y rompiendo barreras: Latino students and the challenges of persisting in college. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), 610-632. Fleming, M. J., & Grace, D. M. (2017). Beyond aspirations: addressing the unique barriers faced by rural Australian students contemplating university. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(3), 351-363.
  11. 11. Karachi University Business Research Journal Vol. 2 No. 2 (2021), 73-83 ISSN (e): 2709-2674 83 Guiffrida, D. A. (2008). Preparing Rural Students for Large Colleges and Universities. Journal of School Counselling, 6(14), n14. Howlett, A., Partridge, H., & Belov, R. (2017). Universities and public libraries supporting student success: an exploratory study. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 66(2), 139-151. List of university of Karachi alumni. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_University_of_Karachi_alumni List of universities in Pakistan. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_universities_in_Pakistan List of university of the Punjab people. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_University_of_Karachi_alumni Murray, J. (2009). The wider social benefits of higher education: What do we know about them?. Australian Journal of Education, 53(3), 230-244. University of Sindh alumni. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:University_of_Sindh_alumni Perna, L. W. (2003). The private benefits of higher education: An examination of the earnings premium. Research in Higher Education, 44(4), 451-472. Pheko, M. M., Monteiro, N., Tlhabano, K. N., & Mphele, S. B. (2014). Rural-to-urban migrations: acculturation experiences among university students in Botswana. International journal of adolescence and youth, 19(3), 306-317. Purnell, K., Cuskelly, E., & Danaher, P. (2007). Improving distance education for university students: issues and experiences of students in cities and rural areas. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education/Revue internationale du e-learning et la formation à distance, 11(2), 75-101. Sovanak, L., Vouchsieng, L., & Navy, M. (2018). The challenges of higher education for rural students in urban universities in Cambodia. Retrieved from https://uc.edu.kh/userfiles/image/2018/The_Challenges_of_Higher_Education.pdf Va S. & Seyhak, P. (2015). Students leave provinces for education promised land. Retrieved from http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/17224/students-leave-provinces-for-education- promised-land/ Wang, T. (2018). Rural–urban divide and identity conflicts of migrant Muslim students in Northwest China. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 1-22. Xiulan, Y. (2015). From passive assimilation to active integration: The adaptation of rural college students to cities. Chinese Education & Society, 48(2), 92-104.

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