Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Clever Regional Unis Can Form the Backbone of a Clever Country

English: University of Ballarat site of Brewer...
University of Ballarat site of Brewery Campus - the foreground is the brew tower for Ballarat Brewery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Professor David Battersby, Vice-Chancellor at University of Ballarat, The Conversation:

Most urban Australians don’t tend to think about regional Australia, and when they do it’s often hazy notions of a place blighted by natural disasters, economic gloom and declining population.

But for one-third of the population who live in rural and regional Australia - a proportion that is actually increasing - this is far from the whole picture.

The common portrayal may be one of despair and destruction, but the people actually affected are far more likely to be positive and resilient.

The general misconceptions about regional areas also affect the way some people view regional universities. In some circles, it’s often thought that the best and brightest potential students should naturally aspire to attend a large, long-established university in a capital city.

But this is just one of many misperceptions about regional universities and the role they play. We need to better recognise the contribution regional universities make to the economy, their communities as well as learning and research.

A matter of perception

It’s clear that regional universities build up educational opportunities and human capital for regional Australia. But they also build much the same for the nation as a whole and this is only increasing.

At its heart, the effort to strengthen Australia’s regional universities is all about giving a “fair go” for the areas they serve. After all, these areas generate two-thirds of Australia’s wealth while lagging behind on many measures of social progress.

There are gaps in educational outcomes in rural and regional areas with Year 12 completion rates about 20% lower than in the capitals, and 12% of adults in regional Australia having a degree compared to 27% in the capitals.

This shows there is more to be done, but more support for regional universities is not an act of pork barrelling or charity and the institutions need to continue to earn their place by undertaking quality teaching and research. They are doing this, with innovative pedagogy and a real focus on targeted, strategic research that provides tangible benefits for the regions, nationally and internationally.

One of the misconceptions sometimes held about regional universities is that they are somehow a lesser option for under-performing regional school leavers unable or unwilling to study at a capital city institution, but the actual statistics paint a different picture.

For example, at the University of Ballarat the average age of students is 26 and 20% studying with us are from capital cities. This cohort of older, wiser students is actually looking for a different type of university experience and lifestyle and its members are prepared to study at regional universities to find what they want.

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