Online study keeps Murraylands students ahead of the curve

As city universities adapt to rapid change brought on by COVID-19, a Murray River Study Hub student says remote learning works just fine.

This article is brought to you by Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland.

In her first year as a Bachelor of Criminology student, 26-year old Murraylands woman Natasha Finlay is proving that university isn’t just for SACE graduates, but for anyone willing to commit to chasing their dreams.

She did not finish high school and admits that going to uni was never on her radar back then.

However, in 2020, after some life experience and a determination to secure her future, she used credit from her two Certificates IIIs – in hospitality and business – to find a pathway into tertiary study.

Now she can see a future full of opportunities.

Ms Finlay, pictured, credits a combination of self-determination and the support of the Murray River Study Hub team to her success so far.

“Uni definitely wasn’t high on my list when I left school,” she says.

“Sitting in a classroom wasn’t for me, and so I knew that the normal style of uni wouldn’t really work.

“By studying online, I can complete the course with a flexible approach and get the study done at a time that suits me and my work.

"I’m really happy I’ve chosen this path.

“I want to eventually get into investigations, and this degree broadens my opportunities.”

Ms Finlay says the online university model is perfect for her because it allows her to continue living and working part-time in the Murraylands, while she has also received personalised study support from the study hub team.

As a proud Aboriginal woman, Ms Finlay hopes her story can inspire other young people from her culture to consider university.

“The study certainly isn’t easy, but it’s worth it,” she says.

“The degree will open a lot of doors for me, and I know I’ll be able to get further in my career.

“I heard about the study hub through one of my friends, who thought it might work for me.

"I didn’t really know what to expect, but the one-on-one support from Vanessa and Shaun has been amazing and they’re helping keep me motivated and on track.

“I don’t think you’d get that level of support from something in the city.”

Currently employed at Mobilong Prison in the administration team, Ms Finlay said she was able to draw on her knowledge and experience at work to help her with her study as well.

“My first assignment was actually on rehab, and that’s a big part of the service Mobilong offers, so that helped me a lot,” she says.

She recommends the Murray River Study Hub's online uni model as a great option for people in the country who don't want to move to the city for their degrees.

Online study growing in popularity

Since late March, as a direct result of COVID-19 and social distancing measures, education facilities including schools, universities and TAFE institutions have been forced to shift to online learning.

The Murraylands and Riverland’s newest tertiary program, the Murray River Study Hub, has shown its incredible value to the community during the pandemic, providing well-supported and uninterrupted online study options for local university students.

The hub’s core focus since its inception in 2019 has been ensuring students are able to access online study in a supported environment, without the need to leave their regional homes.

Program manager Vanessa Leigh said the hub’s students had reported a seamless university study program, with no disruption to their courses during the pandemic.

In fact, most were grateful for the extra flexibility and support provided by the local student advisors.

“Seeing the impact that coronavirus has had on many face-to-face education programs, we’ve realised that the establishment of the Murray River Study Hub last year has really come at the perfect time for university students in our region,” Ms Leigh says.

“Our students haven’t had any issues with their studies because they were already set up and comfortable in using flexible online study platforms.

“This flexibility, combined with the exceptional one-on-one support from our experienced student advisors, has shown the true value of the hub, because now we’re starting to see more interest than ever before in studying uni remotely.”

Assistant program manager and student advisor Rachel Butterworth has been working directly with Riverland students and stakeholders.

She believes the hub's student-centred approach allows both her and her Murraylands counterpart Shaun Harris to support students throughout each step of their regional study journeys.

“I’ve connected directly with all of our current and prospective students during the past two months, just to check in on how they’re coping with study during the extra pressures of coronavirus,” she says.

“There’s not too many students who have a local advisor, living in the same region as them, ready to chat on the phone any day of the week to help them navigate their study or enrolment.

“Existing and future students know that they can get a great university education without the need to relocate to the city.

"Especially right now, regional people are feeling safer and more comfortable staying in the regions.”

A recent Murray River Study Hub survey of more than 180 Murraylands and Riverland year 11 and 12 students found that about 70 per cent were considering uni after school and almost half of those would consider studying online if their chosen discipline were available in that format.

Further, the survey tells us that about 30% of students want to pursue health, an industry sector that continues to grow in demand.

Education, science, the arts, and law were also popular areas they are looking to study, along with notable interest in tourism/hospitality, business/commerce and engineering.

The survey also outlined that local youth want to link with regional employers to learn about career opportunities available here.

About 67% of year 12s and 76% of year 11s said they wanted to know more about local career paths and employer expectations.

Photo: Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland.