Distance is no barrier

Posted August 21, 2013, by Julia Watters

People who live in regional and remote areas are used to travelling long distances. Both my sisters live in a town of 3000 people and few retailers so they have to drive 200km to the closest major regional centre if they want to do some serious shopping. And of course, as I live in Sydney, when they visit me it’s like one of those shows where they’ve been told they can keep whatever they can grab from the store in the next 5 minutes.

While the thrill of a tangible transaction is something they still enjoy, they are increasingly embracing the convenience of the digital checkout. My older sister proudly informed me via text the other day that she had just completed her first online grocery shop (even if her only option was pick-up given she’s a couple of hundred kilometres out of the nearest Coles delivery zone).

The Internet has increasingly been making life easier for those living in regional and remote areas. Residents can access a plethora of goods and services via the information highway without having to set one foot in their car.

And education is high up on that list of services.

Online learning is providing more opportunities for education when commuting or relocating to study just isn’t an option. The commitment of on-campus study is one that many regional residents simply can’t make, especially as ‘regional higher education students are twice as likely to be caring for dependents’, according to the Regional Universities Network.

Furthermore, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research, ‘66 per cent of graduates from regional higher education institutions remain in regional areas for employment’. Not only are they filling critical skill shortages, it’s also clear that regional students want to remain in regional areas. And with the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimating regional population growth of 26 per cent by 2026, it’s no wonder the demand for distance education options is increasing.

The government has long offered incentives to encourage professionals to move regionally to pursue career options. Teachers, for example, are sometimes offered monetary bonuses and subsidised accommodation to draw them to remote locations. It makes sense, then, that more focus should be placed on providing additional post-school education opportunities to those already living regionally, as they are likely to remain in their areas. Many higher education institutions are heeding this call and the online offerings continue to grow as a result. Organisations such as Open Universities Australia boast a range of online courses through leading TAFE and tertiary providers and continue to make distance education more available and accessible.

While educational access is mostly reliant on course providers, it’s a moot point without reliable Internet access. This is where the National Broadband Network (NBN) comes into play. The Australian Government has begun the planned 10-year rollout of its plan to ‘provide high-speed broadband access to all Australian homes and businesses’, replacing the out-dated copper telecommunications network that Australian Internet providers currently operate with.

Increasing online offerings and Internet speeds really are creating the perfect storm for higher education in regional areas. So, if you are living in a regional or remote area and considering higher education, why not take advantage of the many online courses now available at your fingertips? You can get all the education you need simply by turning on your computer!

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Julia Watters

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