Regional university futures on the line

THE University of Ballarat and other regional institutions should provide comprehensive mentoring to better care for first-year students and prevent losing enrolments to city campuses, university leaders say.

The future of universities in regional Australia will be debated at a forum on tertiary education in Ballarat today.

A group of six regional universities, including the University of Ballarat, will also sign an agreement to share teaching staff and collaborate on research projects amid mounting financial pressure on Australia’s higher education sector.

Students will receive credits when they transfer between universities as part of the deal.

Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins said regional institutes risked losing students if they failed to provide extensive support programs.

At the University of Ballarat some students are paid to mentor first-year students as part of a six-week wellbeing program. 

Third year teaching student Jay Brokenshow said he thought about moving to Melbourne to study, but decided to stay in Ballarat because of lower living costs, lower entry requirements and the comfort of staying in familiar surroundings.

He said the mentor program was a good start for first year students but more support needed to be offered.

“The mentors help first years get a grip, but usually you only get one or two meetings,” he said. “It’s not enough really. 

“The university probably could do more to support students but I don’t know what.”

Vice-chancellor David Battersby said providing academic and personal support to students was a constant challenge the university “seeks to embrace”.

Professor Battersby said the universities that signed the regional agreement would specialise in different fields, giving students access to experts outside their own institutes.

He said the universities could specialise in subjects such as languages so students would have more options. 

“It’s probably not a good use of resourcing for all universities to offer a full range of languages,” he said.

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