At a university campus 1,500 kilometres from Jordy’s home, first-year psychology students who could have been his classmates are making headway in their degrees.

Despite getting in to the Adelaide-based course, the 18-year-old is still in Alice Springs where he finished high school, saving money so he can afford the move next year instead.

“It was a hard decision to stay in Alice. It was a decision that was mainly financial,” he said.

“I needed that extra bit of money on the side that I could rely on if I really needed it next year.”

Jordy is working as a teacher’s assistant in Alice Springs while he saves money to study psychology at UniSA.(Supplied/ABC: Sharon Gordon)

Regional and remote students like Jordy are under-represented in higher education, a fact highlighted recently in the biggest review of the sector in decades.

The Australian Universities Accord’s report has found that by 2050, 80 per cent of the nation’s working population will need to have a tertiary education to fix a worsening skills shortage — while only 60 per cent of today’s workforce has one.

Its 47 recommendations, which will be considered by the federal government, include paying students for compulsory placements, changing the way HECS repayments are calculated, and increasing income support.

Alice Springs is halfway between Adelaide and Darwin — about 1,500km from each city.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

Many of the suggested reforms are aimed at making university more accessible to groups deemed disadvantaged, including young people who live outside capital cities.

So how do the proposals stack up in their eyes?

Money is the big priority

For Jordy, any extra financial assistance would be the most useful change, and he said that was the case for many of his peers.

“Funding is the most important thing here, I’ve found, in the Northern Territory,” he said.

“The accommodation I’m going to [in Adelaide next year] is quite expensive.

“It just would make it a lot easier to have financial assistance, and I’m going to apply for that next year.”

Jordy is working as a teacher’s assistant at a local school in his gap year.

Studying at the local Charles Darwin University campus could have saved him rent and travel costs next year, but he picked UniSA as he wanted face-to-face learning.

“There’s not many people that want to do online university in their first or second year,” he said.

“They’ve just come out of school — they’re looking for those new opportunities and meeting new people.”

Armani wants to see more social support for prospective students.(Supplied/ABC: Sharon Gordon)

His former classmate Armani, also on a gap year in their hometown, wanted the option of moving away to study as well.

“You just want to get out and try and get the best education possible,” she said.

“Not downing the Territory or anything, but I know that Victoria or Adelaide can offer me way better opportunities, way more resources for my learning.”

Jordy feels UniSA is the best choice for him, even though it is a long way from home.(ABC News: Stephen Opie)

Support in strange cities

Armani said the logistics and emotional side of moving away from family in Alice Springs made decisions about the future particularly hard.

“Like what’s going to make you happy? How are you going to help your family, give back to them, help your community and all that?” the 18-year-old youth support worker said.

“You’re thinking about yourself but you also have this holistic view of trying to think about everyone else around you.”

Armani says the idea of moving to a big city can feel overwhelming for people from remote areas.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

One recommendation from the report was that there should be more free “enabling” courses, also called bridging courses, to help prepare people for university.

Armani welcomed any effort to provide more support to new students, especially social support.

“When we’re coming from somewhere like Alice Springs and expected to go somewhere like Melbourne, it’s really intimidating,” she said.

Less time making cheese toast?

Another recommendation is the creation of a national “jobs broker” to help students find part-time work in the fields they’re studying.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said it would be valuable for students to be able to earn money while gaining experience relevant to their future careers.

“I spent a fair amount of time while I was at university cooking cheese toast at Sizzler, rather than in the area that I ended up working in,” he recently told Insiders.

Jason Clare says making cheese toast took up a lot of his time at uni.(Twitter: @sizzler_usa)

Jordy, who has already gained some skills relevant to psychology through his gap year work, agreed.

 “It would be something that would really help young people as they move into jobs,” he said.

“You’re getting immersed into the environment sooner, so that you’re more prepared for it after you’ve learned all the content.”

These boarding school students say the benefits of higher education aren’t always obvious in country towns.(Supplied/ABC: Sharon Gordon)

What obstacles remain?

Despite facing barriers, Jordy and Armani knew they wanted to go to university.

But what about students who aren’t interested or don’t see benefits to higher education?

Bailey, a year 12 boarder at Pembroke School in Adelaide, said that was the case for many young people in his hometown of Naracoorte.

“There’s probably not as many opportunities to learn about uni and talk to people that actually have done uni themselves,” he said.

Transport from country towns like Keith, pictured, can be an issue.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“I think unis should be probably coming down to a rural area and giving talks more … [from] someone who’s actually been to Adelaide or metro universities.”

Ava, who moved from Keith, in the state’s south-east, to board at Westminster School in Adelaide, said family obligations could also make it hard for young people to leave regional areas.

“[Choosing] apprenticeships at home, it’s sort of encouraged by lots of the parents because they know they need that helping hand out on the farm or out in the sheds to just get all those jobs done,” she said.

Fellow year 12 boarder Emma, from Mildura in north-western Victoria, believed help with transport could make a difference if school-leavers were weighing up whether or not to go to university.

“That would motivate a lot of students wanting to come away to uni … whether it be a flight or fuel money or something like that,” she said.