13 December 2007

The thought of further study can be daunting, especially for mature-aged people (over 25s) with little or no recent experience of tertiary education. To those who live in a remote area such as Australia's vast arid and semi-arid rangelands (75 percent of Australia), the barriers can feel even greater.

To help people take on the rewarding challenge of further education, Rangelands Australia, with funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program, established a national network of Rangeland Champions in January, 2007.

Rangeland Champions are people who live in the rangelands and who have experienced the rewards of tertiary education by distance. They are passionate about further education and the future for the rangelands, and are keen to encourage and support both potential and enrolled students.

According to Rangelands Australia's Director, Dr John Taylor, at The University of Queensland's (UQ) Gatton Campus, further learning and education are essential for future success in business or in a career.

"The majority of the current and emerging challenges for land managers are relatively new issues, such as
sustainable production systems, effective stakeholder interactions, retaining people, diversification and new industries, not to mention adapting to climate change. These are not the sort of things you can easily learn about on-the-job or from mates," Dr Taylor said.

"The Rangeland Champions network encourages and supports mature-aged learners in rural and regional Australia, and seeks to improve perceptions of tertiary education, and boost participation and retention rates.

"People in the bush are very supportive of this far-reaching initiative, indeed, it is vital to the furtherance of Australia's rural communities," said Peter Kenny, President of AgForce and a guest at a dinner with the Champions.

The Champions, from across Australia, came to Brisbane early in December for their first annual meeting where they reported on educational needs and the effectiveness of initiatives in their region. They also welcomed a new Champion, Richard Golden, reviewed marketing materials and work-shopped issues such as helping students over the phone and relationship-building.

The social interaction and learning was a real highlight of the two days. As Mr Golden said: "This is one of those rare, positive activities that's entirely about making a difference in the bush."

"The Rangeland Champions initiative is a great way to provide information, encouragement and support to people in remote areas seeking new opportunities through further education," Jim Cawthorne, a Champion from Sandy Creek in South Australia, said.

The Champions are also assisting students by providing after-hours advice regarding studying and university expectations, as well as providing moral support and encouragement for people undertaking postgraduate study by distance.

The Rangeland Champions have supported students enrolled in The University of Queensland's (UQ) Graduate Certificate of Rangeland Management and other UQ programs, as well as students enrolled in programs offered by Charles Darwin University, James Cook University and the University of New England.

For further information on the Champions, visit the Rangelands Australia website.

Media inquiries: Susanne Schick (0409 265 587)
Further information: Dr John Taylor (0429 725 838)