Although the introduction of the demand-driven system led to a large increase in the total number of enrolments in higher education, the rates of participation among students from regional and remote areas of Australia remain obstinately lower than those in metropolitan areas.Addressing this difference is crucial to us realising the unfulfilled potential for social and economic development across regional Australia that has its roots in the cycle of persistent inequality between urban and rural communities.
Disparities are evident in the most basic measures of life chances that include the odds of surviving past infancy, and expected life span; and in quality of life measures including health, education, employment and income.
Fewer people with a higher education qualification in regional communities translates into reduced access to skills and professionals across agriculture, business, education, engineering, finance, health, science and welfare, contributing to comparatively poor performance on indicators of social and economic development.
Achieving more in regional Victoria
In Bendigo we are advantaged over other regional areas that lack higher education facilities, but we have an opportunity to achieve much more for regional Victoria.
Together, we can bring about the changes needed to build a sustainable and diverse workforce for the 21st century knowledge-based economy.
In fact, the economic development of our regional cities, and the range of professional skills needed to sustain them depends on the ability of our communities to have localised access to higher education.We know that of the students who graduate from our Bendigo Campus, more than 75 per cent stay in regional areas to live and work, providing the core professional services for the communities in which they live, and ensuring that those communities retain vibrant, energised places in which to raise families.
We also know that of those who venture to the capital cities to pursue higher education, less than 30 per cent return to regional areas for employment after graduation.
Evolving technology and ongoing changes across workplaces mean that the ability to benefit and fully engage economically in our communities, will require increased levels of education and training.It is essential, therefore, that our education system provides pathways for those who are not sufficiently prepared or uncertain about higher education.
Changes to Federal Government arrangements that would increase funding for diploma and other sub-bachelor programs are essential if we are to provide individuals with a second chance at learning, and achievable steps that will provide a qualification pathway as well as the confidence and resolve to go further.
Distance: overcoming a significant barrier to university attendance
We also know that distance from higher education facilities can be a significant barrier to attendance. La Trobe's Bendigo Campus has more than 600 beds of on-campus accommodation, but there is demand for more.Students who need to leave home to pursue their studies are more likely to stay and achieve better results if they are able to live in a secure, academically and socially supportive living and learning community.
Providing opportunities for more students from outside the Bendigo region will require, quite simply, more accommodation. This remains one of our priorities.
Higher education also provides an opportunity to connect to the world. New knowledge creation in universities has always come from the diversity of the academic and student population, bringing academic rigour to different backgrounds and perspectives and the clash of ideas.We aim to bring more international students to Bendigo – allowing them the unique opportunity to learn and experience life in our wonderful city, and also enriching the learning of local students through friendships and sharing of cultures.
We are also providing many more opportunities for our local students to spend time abroad during their studies – returning with knowledge and experiences that will shape their future lives and careers, and professional networks that will increasingly connect our city to the world.
Together we can provide regional Victorians with the opportunities to create fulfilling lives and flourishing communities.Our open day on Sunday, August 16 provides a great opportunity for you to find out more about La Trobe University.
This article first appeared in the Bendigo Weekly