Monday, January 12, 2009

Higher education opportunities to boost rural prosperity

THE recent Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education highlights the investment needed to overcome innate obstacles rural Australians face in accessing higher education opportunities and the need to unlock labor force capacity to build productivity gains and generate economic growth.

"As noted in today ’s Bradley Review findings, all Australians regardless of where they live must have access to higher education," National Farmers ’ Federation (NFF) CEO Ben Fargher said.

"Rural Australians, especially primary producers with predominately family ownership structures, often start from a poor position in terms of equity and access to education, training and skills.

"Naturally, they often have a preference for studying at a nearby regional location, but such a facility may not exist and they cannot afford to move to study elsewhere.

"The Australian Government ’s response to this review must ensure the education needs of rural students are catered for.

"Specifically, stronger support is needed for regional campuses so rural students can pursue higher education, which, in turn, assists in retaining graduates in regional communities." Studies show that once a rural student leaves for a city-based education, there is only a 40 per cent likelihood that they will return to a country area.

On the flip side, 40 per cent of metropolitan students who study at an inland university stay in country areas for employment.

"This strongly suggests that investment in regional universities can deliver significant spin-off benefits in attracting people from cities to regional areas, enhancing regional development opportunities and improving health, education and social services that are, typically, below average in rural communities," he said.

"Farms today need a hettereducated and higher skilled workforce than ever before, hut rural communities are too often denied basic opportunities to the education they need." Australian agriculture is facing unprecedented demand for skilled labor with around ~0,00() skilled and highly-skilled positions going begging.

"As major regional employers some 300.000 direct on-farm jobs farming must he able to attract, train and retain workers to deliver improved long-term benefits, and prospects, to employees and the regional communities that rely on farm businesses," he said.

"But, first, the government must correct the imbalance by ensuring equal access to higher education [or rural Australians ’

Southern Farmer

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