Rural uni campuses can do better

AUSTRALIAN universities with regional campuses need to rethink how they design and deliver programs to regional students who face significant challenges in completing university qualifications.

The introduction of “chunked” university learning and “micro-credentials” would help regional students build their qualifications and significantly reduce attrition rates.

“Chunking” university learning into much smaller pieces that students can take up as and when they need them, and then build into a qualification, would help students who we know are committed to their higher-education goals yet can be forced to delay or withdraw from their study because of competing priorities.

A student could complete a shorter qualification that requires less time and expense.

Then, if they come back into study later, they will have full credit for the previous qualification, study further and earn a higher qualification.

“Micro-credentials” – smaller programs that can stand alone or work together to provide “nested” qualifications in which, for example, a diploma leads to an associate degree and then to a degree – would help low socio-economic status regional university students who research shows are often forced to postpone their studies for financial reasons.

We need fresh thinking about the design and delivery of rural university education that meets the diverse needs of people who may be facing significant challenges to stay at university.

Regional universities have the potential to play a leading role in changing university education so they can continue their ongoing and significant contributions to the regional economies and communities that are home to almost one third of Australia’s population.

But government funding and measurement of outcomes should be realistic and relevant to the students of today – which means understanding the experiences and challenges of all students, and not just those fortunate enough to be able to live at home with supportive parents who assist their study efforts.

Regional students can lead the way in showing us what needs to happen in university education across the nation – so that if we address their needs we will also meet the needs of business and industry in shaping a skilled workforce to support a rapidly evolving economy and society.

Professor Marcia Devlin,

Federation University Australia Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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