STUDY SPACE: CUC student Annette Cosgrove and her daughter Molly.
STUDY SPACE: CUC student Annette Cosgrove and her daughter Molly. Tim Jarrett

Counter-terrorism from the comfort of the Clarence

ANYONE who has lived in the Clarence longer than a week will have no doubt heard the story about the one that got away.

The university campus.

Stories vary wildly: A university approached the community who feared the change it may have brought, or perhaps it was the community who courted the university, only to be rebuffed.

Whatever the case, the Clarence Valley today is at the centre of what might become the future of tertiary education - the Country Universities Centre.

"Before this came along, kids that grew up in this regional area had to move away to get an education," said CUC manager Melanie Lamb.

"Now there is a support network for people of all ages."

The new centre would include private study areas, computers and a place for people to work collaboratively and video conference.

At the heart of the centre was a focus on connectivity and the CUC enabled any student studying any tertiary degree to access the centre as their primary place of study.

Ms Lamb said universities across the country were moving to flexible study and lecture theatres that once held 100 were left nearly empty.

"I think initially it takes a bit for people to understand it. But there are other centres like this in regional areas and they are doing really well."

"It gives people a real choice."

The amount of choice in a heavily deregulated education market was one reason why the industry was undergoing a period of rapid change and the CUC's first student, Annette Cosgrove, embodied that.

The mother of five was one semester into a Graduate Diploma of Counter Terrorism and Security, something she might never have dreamed of doing in Grafton.

"This degree is through CSU in Canberra and it's great because there is nothing like this on offer even down at Coffs Harbour," she said.

"At first I thought, 'what is the point?' But I wanted to do this for me."

The opportunities that online learning offered were now almost endless and the CUC had the potential to be the missing link for those who had concerns over the lack of support in regional areas.

The centre also enabled Ms Cosgrove to study at a dedicated work space which was free of the distractions that came with raising kids, living on farm and being a carer for her mother. Not to mention the lack of adequate internet.

"With an online video I am lucky if I get two to three minutes at a time. And out of a two-hour video that makes it so difficult," she said.

"Now I can go into the study centre and watch the whole two hours in one sitting. It will be amazing."

The opportunities also extend to teenagers unsure about leaving the Clarence to study and Ms Lamb was passionate about attracting them to the centre.

"I am going to make the high schools a focus and as time goes on we can start to grab those extra couple of students that now think 'hey, I can do it'."

Ms Lamb agreed closer links with business and industry could be fostered to create a clear pathway from school to university through to employment, something which had not existed in the Clarence before.

"We will be able to work with the hospitals, the schools, local businesses and other firms to help them take those students on as interns or on work placement," she said.

"That means the knowledge, experience and skills would stay in our town rather than say, a student working away in Sydney hospitals."

Importantly it was now possible for regions to change the narrative that said anyone who wanted to study needed to leave regional areas. Online learning has ensured there are now just as many opportunities to study in Grafton than in a town with a regional university campus.

There is every possibility changes in the education sector mean the Clarence Valley has more control over its destiny than ever before, relegating the story of 'the university that got away' into irrelevance.

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