Study Hub takes shape

The Southern Downs University Study Hub Working Group began the process at the hub location in Warwick. Picture: LUCY WALDRON

By Lucy Waldron

Progress on the Warwick Study Hub has begun as the Working Group convened on Friday, 12 April to map out their initial steps towards establishing the facility.

Spearheaded by the Country University Centre (CUC), the project marks a significant milestone for educational accessibility in the Southern Downs region.

The CUC recently expanded its network by welcoming 10 new sites, with the CUC Southern Downs emerging as a promising addition.

Positioned as a community-owned and operated Regional University Study Hub, the centre aims to support students pursuing courses from any university or higher education provider, fostering a diverse range of educational pathways.

Chris Ronan, CEO of CUC, said the partnership between CUC and the Southern Downs has been a long time coming.

“There has been a real groundswell of community support and that started when several groups got together after seeing the real need and want for a space like this,” Mr Ronan said.

Groups like the Southern Downs Industry Education Association (SDIEA), Southern Downs Regional Council, school principals and the Chamber of Commerce were able to come together to create a compelling application for Commonwealth funding.

Mr Ronan believed that the funding was granted because the community wrote the application for the community as opposed to just the council placing a submission.

With $1.5 million allocated over four years, the funding will facilitate the construction and development of the Study Hub.

Michael Hefferan, Southern Downs Regional Council Manager Economic Development officer and part of the Study Hub Working Group, emphasised the importance of providing support for students, particularly those who may be the first in their family to pursue higher education.

“The space about providing academic preparedness and an opportunity for the students to get an education closer to home if they desire,” Mr Hefferan said.

Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) Chief Executive Troy Williams echoed Mr Hefferan’s point that the hubs will help stop the brain drain when students leave their local communities to study in major regional town centres and capital cities.

“As a nation, we need people to support a culture of lifelong learning in order to adapt to new technologies and business processes,“ Mr Williams said.

The Warwick Study Hub aims to accommodate students of all ages and backgrounds, offering a space for both recent high school graduates and mature-aged learners.

Mr Ronan said often in small towns they see people who have always wanted to pursue university but are too deeply connected to their community.

“In rural areas, if you wanted to go university as a mature age student you would have to change yourself to fit, but this is changing universities to fit those people,” he said.

“The reason why this [initiative] has been so successful and it’s growing so quickly is because it is actually pushing the high education sector to change.

“I think it’s sort of flipping the narrative around, people in regional areas are just as aspirational to go to university as anyone else in Australia, the problem has been the structure of universities has excluded them so this is a step in the right direction,” Mr Ronan said.

The Centre will offer a range of services, including face-to-face academic support and wellbeing services, as well as modern facilities equipped with high-speed internet and quiet study spaces.

Co-located with the Southern Downs Industry Education Association (SDIEA) building, the location is poised to become a vibrant hub of learning and collaboration.

Gary Lawrence, President of the Warwick Chamber of Commerce, emphasised the community-wide support that fuelled the initiative’s success.

“We approached large employers like Frasers Transport and John Dee who were very supportive, a number of politicians provided us with letters of support and all high school came on board,” Mr Lawrence said.

“Everyone understands the advantages of having a space like the hub here.”

With construction progressing smoothly, Mr Ronan anticipates the Study Hub to open its doors by the second half of the year, providing a valuable resource for students seeking educational opportunities and support in the Southern Downs region.