by CHRIS RONAN
The Country Universities Centre (CUC) – as part of the Regional University Centres programme – has reimagined higher education (HE) access in regional Australia and allowed local communities to solve their own HE challenges.
Instead of developing a satellite regional university campus with only a small number of degrees, the CUC provides generalised face-to-face support and nurtures a local learning community for any student who is studying online or in blended mode at any Australian university.
This CUC model offers academic, wellbeing, technology, and administrative support, in addition to what each student’s university already provides. These extra layers of support are crucial as regional on-line students are often at greater risk of attrition; many CUC students are from low socio-economic status backgrounds (67 per cent), first-in-family to attend university (49 per cent), Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (7.1 per cent), and/or have caring and multiple other responsibilities. The presence of a CUC empowers students to enrol in the degree of their choice, knowing they will have easy access to a welcoming learning community that provides face-to-face support.
The ability for regional students to choose any course and still get face-to-face support is what has been missing from previous attempts to increase regional HE participation. CUC students want greater course choice than what a satellite campus usually provides, and this student need has driven the design of the CUC. Each CUC is locally owned and operated, developed within and by local communities, and can respond flexibly to changing student needs.
In Semester 1 2021, 1149 students were registered with the CUC across 14 communities and studied 673 unique courses through 40 different Australian universities – a clear indication that regional students appreciate being given a choice. Students want to individualise their HE journey and not be funnelled into limited course offerings. The diverse courses being studied contribute to the cultural fabric and vibrancy of regional communities, providing opportunities for new business ventures and creative innovation.
The positive impacts of the CUC are clear, with a recent evaluation finding: 93 per cent of participating students reported feeling more confident about their studies and 94 per cent believe the CUC has made it easier to stay, study or work in their community.
Under the CUC model, students receive high-quality on-line education from a university, and a locally relevant learning community with additional personalised support from the CUC. What is needed now is for the HE sector to embrace locally developed solutions as the way forward in increasing regional participation in HE.
Chris Ronan, Equity and Engagement Director, Country Universities Centre
Chris.email@example.com Twitter: @Ronan_CT