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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.