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A study in opportunityBeth Scarrow

University student, Beth Scarrow, is just one of the current faces behind an ongoing increase in the number of people living in the Waikato region gaining academic qualifications. Beth moved here from the Bay of Plenty to study at the University of Waikato and now (2014) she’s in her third and final year of a Bachelor of Science, double majoring in biology and earth sciences.

The Waikato Progress Indicator (WPI) for Educational Attainment shows that over the period 1996 to 2013, there has been a strong upward trend in the percentage of adults in the Waikato region with academic qualifications. The region’s still slightly below average compared to New Zealand overall. There’s also some variation: more people have higher qualifications in Hamilton city compared to surrounding rural and provincial areas.

Beth chose to study at Waikato University after attending the Hills Laboratory Waikato Science Summer School and being inspired by what she saw there. “That, coupled with the closeness to home (Katikati) and the cheaper cost of living in Hamilton, made me choose Waikato,” she says. She gained access to higher education through a range of scholarships, but not everyone can do this. Many are instead dependent on saving up for study or accessing a student loan. Those who graduate with a high level of debt are economically disadvantaged before they even start working, and they’re less likely to be able to save for a home.

This links to the way in which qualifications signal a person’s level of job readiness and contribute to their lifetime employment, income and wellbeing. For example, Beth initially lived in the Halls of Residence at Student Village, and says she found it a great way to make friends and meet a range of different people. Those connections, participation and community engagement reflect how an educated population adds to community vibrancy and creativity. Beth has also had a chance to get out into the wider region as part of her study. “I’ve really enjoyed the field trips associated with the earth science papers, especially a trip to see the Tongariro power scheme for my second year hydrology paper.”

When more people gain higher educational attainment levels in this region, this translates into a range of economic, social and environmental benefits for them and the region overall. The reverse is equally true – quality of life and wellbeing is lower for people with less education and lower income. That’s why a continued positive trend in people gaining higher qualifications is essential if we are to achieve better quality of life for people living in the Waikato region, and support our region’s growth in the future.

Read other stories from people living in our region.