Journal article

Promoting rural/regional sustainability through the provision of a quality higher education experience

1 Jan 2010

The final stage of a longitudinal research project that focused on identifying the impact of a new university presence in a South Australian regional city is presented in this paper, which continues the account given at the 2009 SPERA Conference. The early stages comprised focus groups of stakeholders, staff involved, and students, and surveys of the pioneering student cohort (2005 enrolments) during their first and third years of study. The project's action research nature gave the opportunity to implement improvements in course delivery and administrative matters as needs were revealed. Late in 2009, a survey of graduates explored their overall perceptions of their university studies, as well as identifying their employment outcomes and aspirations, their motivation for pursuing further study, and their perceptions of the influence exerted by this university regional centre. Their ideas about further opportunities for university engagement with the region were sought, along with any research needs of which they were aware and their interest in being involved in future research projects. The story of three participants is considered in further detail, providing insight into the experience and views of these graduates. As well as confirming and amplifying many of the findings of earlier stages of the project, which included high levels of overall student satisfaction, the final survey, along with other data from stakeholder consultations, and significant anecdotal material, demonstrates the role that this regional university centre is playing in contributing to the employment needs of its region and the retention of its current and potential professionals, and provides lessons for other university outreach. Its presence, made possible by the collaborative efforts of university and community, has helped residents of the region to see higher education as a normal option for them, rather than something that previously seemed out of their reach.

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