It might not be a fully-fledged university campus, but that doesn’t matter any more.
Study hubs like the one which opened in Murray Bridge on Tuesday are the way of the future, says TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman.
The hub, located at the TAFE campus on Swanport Road, will act as a home base for students studying towards qualifications online, and not just with partner institutions Flinders University and Central Queensland University.
The key to its students’ success will be the support they can access on-site, with staff ready to help them troubleshoot any problems or just chat about their progress and career plans.
The contemporary, welcoming decor will not hurt, either.
“This facility is the future,” Mr Coltman told a crowd of about 60 people on Tuesday afternoon.
“Campuses where single institutions teach single students in single courses in no way represent what industry needs or demands.”
The study hub model would encourage collaboration between students in different disciplines, he said, to the benefit of all.
Most importantly, though, it would open up the world of tertiary education to a generation of Murraylands students who could not commute or relocate to Adelaide: school leavers, mums re-entering the workforce, re-training workers and mature-aged learners.
Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland chief executive Jo Podoliak envisioned a future in which more and more locals would pursue tertiary education.
“Regional students can now access tertiary education opportunities without having to travel, and while staying within the fabric of our community; for some families, this means a dream can become a reality.”
At present, fewer than one in four Murraylands residents had a qualification higher than a Certificate III, she said; fewer than seven per cent had a university degree.
That was a problem, federal MP Tony Pasin said.
On average, an Australian with a university degree would earn an extra $1 million over his or her lifetime when compared with someone who did not have one.
Regional Australians were 50 per cent less likely to gain a degree, he said; that was one reason there tended to be more socio-economic disadvantage in the country.
“I’m someone who believes your future is not defined by your geography,” he said.
“This is a statement in that regard.”
All that was needed now to justify the federal government’s $870,000 investment in the study hub, he said, were the students.
He encouraged everyone present to make sure their classmates, friends and family members knew they had a chance to stay in the region while studying at university.
More than 70 courses are already available through the study hub.
Its opening was the culmination of a decade of planning by the Murray Bridge council and its partners.
In particular, a 2015 report by former Port Adelaide Football Club executive Brian Cunningham made it clear that an education precinct would be necessary if Murray Bridge were to prosper in the future.
The idea of a partnership between TAFE, a university and other stakeholders was previously explored under the Chaffey Learning Exchange name in 2016.
- More information: www.murrayriverstudyhub.org.au.