Increase investment in community education to tackle disadvantage and unemployment in rural Australia

March 3, 2017

Community Colleges Australia issued the following press release in late February – reproduced below.

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Australian governments should increase investment in community education to address higher levels of disadvantage and unemployment in rural and regional Australia, according to a new report from Community Colleges Australia (CCA).

The report, The Role of Community Education in Australian Regional and Rural Economic Development, finds that not-for-profit community-based vocational education and training (VET) providers play a disproportionately large role in rural and regional Australia, educating at least 10% of VET students in New South Wales and 20% in Victoria.  This makes community providers a significant national force in providing skills to non-metropolitan Australia.

Participation rates in VET courses are 50% higher in rural and regional Australia than in metropolitan areas. A much larger percentage of rural and regional VET learners also study lower level qualifications: Certificate III and below – just those qualifications that community education providers excel in, with their focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.

“This report shows how community education is crucial in providing skills and in driving economic development in rural and regional Australia, and includes numerous examples of ‘bottom-up’ innovative community-based approaches. Community education providers are uniquely positioned to act as ‘passing gear’ vehicles, accelerating new ideas and helping our regions to prosper,” said Dr Don Perlgut, Chief Executive Officer of CCA.

“Yet governments have not been investing enough in community education, particularly in high need, disadvantaged rural and regional areas where youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. We have not seen any national infrastructure investment in community education since 2009 – it’s now 2017. On top of this, Australia lacks a coherent national statement on the role of community education in VET. This policy vacuum makes it difficult for community providers to operate effectively,” said Dr Perlgut.

“CCA looks forward to working collaboratively with the Australian, state and territory governments to fix these issues, and to utilise the capacity that community VET providers have to meet pressing rural and regional skills needs,” said Dr Perlgut.

The report makes a number of key recommendations, including that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments should:

  • Boost funding for community education, including providing more support for infrastructure, professional development and staff training, pilot funding programs, and community service obligation activities.
  • Utilise regional and rural community education providers to engage with vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians, particularly young people.
  • Develop a coordinated national-state-territory policy statement on the value and place of community and adult education.
  • Examine VET funding programs to ensure community providers are not disadvantaged by unnecessary regulations.
  • Collect and publish annual data on regional and rural student outcomes and provider comparisons.

The full report The Role of Community Education in Australian Regional and Rural Economic Development is available here on Community Colleges Australia’s website.

 

(image below: logging truck driving through Armidale NSW)

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Remoteness Index of Australia

October 31, 2013

I am one of a small number that gets excited by a good map (the former town planner/geographer in me), but there is a great one of geographic remoteness in Australia as part of this document about families in rural and remote Australia, published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies:

Remoteness map of Australia

As I discussed in my recent post on rural and remote poverty, the key thing to remember is that almost every single indicator of well-being – educational attainment, health outcomes, families in crisis, etc (even telecommunications access) – declines as you move “outwards” in Australia from major cities to inner regional to outer regional to remote to very remote. This map shows it very well (although it does not include state boundaries on it, which would be helpful), and can be very helpful in determining which regions have compounded problems.


Rural Poverty in Australia

October 29, 2013

When you sit (as I often do) in one of Sydney’s wealthier suburbs, it’s hard to imagine the level of disadvantage the rural and remote Australians experience.  Fortunately, there are those that keep trying to remind us.

One of the latest is the report entitled A Snapshot of Poverty in Rural and Regional Australia, released on 14 October 2013 and co-published by the National Rural Health Alliance and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).

Here’s a figure that helps put it all in perspective:  “18 of the 20 electorates in Australia with the lowest household incomes are outside the capital cities”.  That’s correct.  A full 90% of them.

Need more proof?  Have a look at the table below.  Looks of figures (all expressed in percentages).  Examine the patterns carefully:  in every instance, as you move from metropolitan (the major cities to “inner regional” to “outer regional” to “remote” to “very remote”, the indicators get worse.  In other words, proportionately there are 50% more low income families with kids in remote communities than major cities – and almost three times that number in very remote communities.  There are 50% more long-term unemployed in regional areas and more than double that in very remote.  Whereas 50% of families in capital cities have private hospital cover, only 20% in remote communities do.  Every figure gets worse across every indicator.

Indirect poverty indicators in Australia

(All figures in %)

Major cities

Inner Regional

Outer Regional

Remote

Very Remote

Low income families w/kids

8.8

10.7

11.1

12.9

23.1

Single parent  beneficiaries

4.6

6.9

6.8

6.2

6.5

Disability pensioners

4.6

7.0

6.9

5.6

5.2

Long term unemployed

2.3

3.3

3.4

3.7

5.5

Unskilled and semi skilled

14.6

19.6

21.4

22.8

30.4

Jobless families children <15 yrs

12.2

15.4

15.6

15.0

25.9

Private health insurance hosp

48.2

43.8

40.6

33.0

19.6

Source: PHIDU http://www.publichealth.gov.au/remoteness—australia/remoteness—australia-2012-incl.-2011-census-data.html

Do you need more convincing?  How about this one?  Education indicators.  The differences are even starker.  You read this one right when you realise that only 4.5% of school leavers are in higher education in remote areas, only 12.1 in remote, 16.2 in outer regional and 20.4 in inner regional – but 35.5 in the major cities.  And yes, there are many more developmentally vulnerable children outside the major cities than in them.

Education indicators in Australia

(All figures in %)

Major cities

Inner Regional

Outer Regional

Remote

Very Remote

Young kids devt vulnerable

11.0

12.4

13.8

16.9

32.2

School leave in higher educ

35.5

20.4

16.2

12.1

4.5

16 year olds in high school

81.3

76.8

73.9

65.4

51.6


Dr Brian Bowring, Tasmanian rural general practitioner, receives AM honour

June 10, 2013

Today, 10 June 2013, the Australian Queens Birthday “Honours List” includes my former colleague Dr Brian Bowring, a past Chair of the Rural Health Education Foundation and a rural general practitioner in northern Tasmania.  Dr Bowring received an “AM” – a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia, for “significant service to medicine in rural and regional areas, and as a general practitioner”.

Dr Brian Bowring lives in George Town, Tasmania, a small industrial rural community located about one hour north of Launceston.   He was born in Hobart and graduated in medicine from the University of Tasmania.  Aside from his role with the Rural Health Education Foundation, Dr Bowring has been the Chair and Treasurer of the Board of General Practice Training Tasmania, Chair of Rural Workforce Tasmania and Deputy Chair of what is now Rural Health Workforce Australia.

I worked closely with Dr Bowring for more than eight years, reporting directly to him for the majority of my time when I was the CEO of the Rural Health Education Foundation from January 2003 through August 2011.  (He took the role of Chair of the Foundation in October 2002 and left that position in December 2010.)

He is a highly skilled medical educator and has been a generous and tireless campaigner for and practitioner of rural health, making an important impact both within his home state of Tasmania as well as nationally.  I have seen him “in action” doing everything from chairing meetings to staffing exhibition conference tables in places as diverse as Perth and Launceston.  His ability to “connect” with rural and remote health practitioners is unparalleled. I am proud of the eight-plus years that I worked closely with him and very pleased that his life and work has been honoured in this way.

To see the details of this honour on the website of the Governor General of Australia, go to this link and scroll down to page 40.

A photo of Dr Brian Bowring appears below:

Dr Brian Bowring

 


Rural Telecommunications Review submission

December 19, 2011

Amongst the many telecommunications reviews currently underway in Australia (think the Media Convergence review and others) sits one of profound importance for rural and remote Australians:  the Rural Telecommunications Review, which is being headed by Rosemary Sinclair. This review is due to report by 5 March 2012 (soon!) and is charged with the following:

In its review of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia, the committee will have particular regard for initiatives that enable regional communities to participate in, and realise the opportunities of, the digital economy.

I have put a submission to this review, which is in part based on my digital inclusion paper, but extends the discussion further with particular regard to rural and remote Australia.  My submission is available here, and a list of all submissions to the Review can be seen here.


The Kevin Costner Effect: They keep on coming

December 18, 2011

According to The New York Times (“New Dreams for Field”, 30 October 2011, Sports p. 1), the fans are still coming to the baseball field that Kevin Costner’s character built in the 1989 film Field of Dreams (news flash: Field of Dreams  is screening on free-to-air Australian TV on digital channel One -“1”- on Thursday 22nd December at 8.30pm). Writer Ken Belson reports that the farm where the field was built (Dyersville, Iowa), whose owners have maintained the baseball field, has now been sold to new owners who are planning on maintaining it. In the first year after the film was released, about 7,000 people showed up to see the field; the following year that number doubled and “some brought their fathers’ old gloves and left them in the cornfield.  Others exchanged wedding vows or scattered ashes of deceased relatives.”

The powerful reaction to this place reflects three enduring, important and enduring themes in American life:

– the longing for a “historical past” which was simpler and filled with traditional values;

– the significance of farms and rural America in the consciousness of Americans as a place where the “real” America lies, irrespective of the fact that only a tiny percentage of Americans actually live on farms:  according to the US Dept of Agriculture, the figure is less than two percent; and according to the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, “the desertion of the small family farm constitutes the largest population movement in American history” and “the family farm is one of the last homes of old school American ethnicity and beliefs”; and

– the paramount and indeed spiritual importance of place, physical space – even in this digital, hyper-connected and networked world.

The lasting impact of this film, with its tag line “If you build it, they will come” also has helped to establish (or at least reinforce) what I call a significant fallacy in construction:  that somehow if we just build a place/space/building you name it, people will show.  Yes, they will come, but only rarely.  To Kevin Costner’s character’s field – and indeed even to its real-life location some twenty-two years later.

But not necessarily to everything.  In my recent (November 2011) presentation to the Communications Policy and Research Forum in Sydney (click here for details of this paper, including a link to the full downloadable paper), I call this belief of building and the coming “The Kevin Costner Effect”.  In the paper, I caution that this is not necessarily the case when it comes to the development of broadband networks and infrastructure like Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).  The reason for this caution is that some twenty percent of the population in countries like Australia, the USA and the UK will not automatically “arrive” on broadband – emphasising the necessity to promote and systematically plan for digital inclusion.


Australian broadband participation – rural lags badly

November 14, 2011

A few days ago, I posted a copy of my presentation (“Digital Inclusion in the Broadband World: Challenges for Australia”) at last week’s Communications Policy and Research Forum (CPRF), which took place in Sydney on November 7th and 8th.

One of the presentations at the Forum – entitled “Regional Australians Engaging in the Digital Economy” – was given by Joseph DiGregorio, the Manager of the Communications Analysis Section at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

I mentioned in my conference paper, there appears to be some disagreement regarding what percentage of Australians are “broadband-connected”.  Clearly these figures do matter, because if the figures are low, the Government will feel the need to invest more funds in promoting and facilitating “digital participation”.  But if the figures are relatively high, the pressure (and the political imperative) eases.  So below is a summary taken from slide 17 of DiGregorio’s presentation, with figures supplied by Roy Morgan Research and effective June 2011 – just about the best figures you will find anywhere.  Click here to view a copy of his slides.

The most “broadband-connected” homes in Australia (note that this is “homes” only, and not all “premises”, which also includes businesses, etc):

–          The ACT comes in the winner at 75% – this makes a lot of sense, considering the relatively higher wealth and education of ACT residents, both factors being associated with high broadband-connectivity.  The ACT also leads with the most internet-access homes at 85%.

–          Next comes Brisbane at 74% broadband (admittedly, a one percentage point difference may not actually be statistically significant), with 84% internet-connected.

–          Next is Perth at 73% broadband connected (82% internet).

–          Then Melbourne broadband homes at 72%, Darwin/Alice Springs (metro NT) at 71% and Sydney at 69%.  I would hazard a guess that Sydney’s 69% IS statistically significant, compared to the ACT’s 75% connections.

What is even more telling – and troubling but certainly not surprising – are those at the bottom of the Australian broadband connection percentages:

–          Tasmania outside of Hobart at 55% and Hobart at 61% (and who is complaining about how much attention Tasmania actually gets on telecommunications matters?; they appear to need it, big time).

–          Rural South Australia sits at 62%.

–          Rural Victoria and rural New South Wales sit at 65%.

Yes, these metro/rural figures are significant, and consistently so.  In fact, in every state the household broadband connectivity of non-capital city regions are about ten percentage points lower below than the major metropolitan areas.  The one exception is Tasmania, primarily because the Hobart connection numbers are so low to begin with.  Note that no figures are available for non-metro Northern Territory because of small numbers; if data were available, presumably these would be extremely low because of the large number of remote communities where connectivity is not high.