August saw the release of the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy.

The Hon Dr Denis Napthine MP chaired the expert advisory group that led the review. It made seven key recommendations.

The strategy

The strategy is the result of the federal government’s response to the Halsey Review of regional, rural and remote education. The strategy’s website links you to the terms of reference for the review, the framing and issues papers and the submissions made in response to the framing paper.

Why a strategy?

Because, currently:

“individuals who grow up in regional, rural and remote (RRR) areas are around 40 per cent less likely to gain a higher-level tertiary education qualification and less than half as likely to gain a bachelor and above qualification by the time they are 35 years old, compared to individuals from metropolitan areas.”

So, what are the issues driving lower levels of participation and attainment?

Five key issues were identified. The first is that there are fewer tertiary education options in RRR communities. So, access, opportunity and choice are limited. Second, there is not enough support – particularly financial support – for RRR individuals who want to participate in tertiary education. Third, they are less likely to be prepared for tertiary study, so more effort needs to go into improving the impact of schools and providing effective careers advice.

Equity groups in RRR communities are also an issue, especially “low socioeconomic status (SES) students, Indigenous Australians, students with disability and those from more remote areas.” All require additional support because of the cumulative effects of the challenges they face, all of which impact on their learning.

Finally, Tertiary education’s contribution to effective regional development is really important, but the contribution to RRR areas is not being maximised.

So, what changes does the strategy recommend?

Federal Education Minister Tehan’s recent speech to the National Press Club on 28 August 2019 summarised the seven recommendations of the Napthine Review:

First, it recommended improved access to tertiary study options for students in regional, rural and remote areas.

Second, it proposed improving access to financial support, to support greater fairness and more equal opportunity.

Third, it recommended improving “the quality and range of student support services for regional, rural and remote students to address the challenges of transition and higher rates of attrition.”

Fourth, it proposed that building aspiration, improving career advice and strengthening regional, rural and remote schools was needed “to better prepare students for success.”

Fifth, it recommended improving “the participation and outcomes for regional, rural and remote students from equity groups including low SES students, Indigenous students, students with disability and remote students.”

Finally, it recommended both strengthening the role of tertiary education providers in regional development and growing Australia’s regions.

However, the expert advisory group noted that “for the Strategy to be successful, concerted and sustained effort is needed from a range of players, including all levels of government, tertiary education providers, employers, communities and families.” So, developing “monitoring tools to track the progress of the Strategy and achievement of the proposed targets over its ten-year timeframe will be important.”