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Those in rural and regional areas face a variety of
challenges, and one of the biggest is accessing educational opportunities.
In 2010, a research study showed Victorians in rural and regional
areas were deferring university at almost twice the rate of their city
cousins. Even more disturbing, the research found that the number of
those in rural and regional areas giving up their aspirations to
undertake higher education had been increasing over time; while 10 per
cent of country students were deferring in 2004, that number had
increased 50 per cent to 15 per cent by 2010. Many of those who defer
never end up making it to uni, and plenty more don't even bother
applying in the first place.
TAFE to the rescue
Most of the nation's universities are clustered in capital cities –
the handful that aren't are in major regional centres. Likewise,
private colleges tend to be found in areas with high population
densities. In terms of the nation's educational institutions, it's
TAFE that has shouldered the burden of ensuring those in rural and
regional Australia have the opportunity to learn new skills.
Real and virtual classrooms
As is evident from driving through the bush, TAFEs are an integral
part of the landscape (and economy) of rural and regional Australia.
Those with no hope of getting to any other type of educational
facility are still usually within commuting distance of their local
TAFE. Nowadays, even if they aren't, they're still able to undertake
courses thanks to TAFEs' enthusiastic embrace of online learning.
The award-winning TAFE
Western Connect has allowed over 3000 students to gain skills
and qualifications, providing more than 50 online vocational courses
that can be undertaken anywhere there's a computer and internet
connection. By undertaking web-based courses, those in rural and
regional areas can learn at their own pace while also enjoying the
opportunity to talk to other students in online forums and communicate
with teachers via email or phone calls.
Excitingly, videoconferencing technology is allowing students from
all over Australia to come together in what TAFE Western Connect
refers to as virtual ‘connected classrooms'. Thanks in no small part
to innovations pioneered by the TAFE system, the day may not be far
off when those in the country will enjoy exactly the same educational
opportunities as those in the city.