Australian Rural Education Award (AREA) 2009 Winner

Professor John Taylor, Director, Rangelands Australia, University of Queensland with Emmy Terry, President SPERA

Rangelands Australia, University of Queensland

Traditionally, there has been little external engagement and consultation in the development of higher education products and services, with a strong focus on institutional efficiencies rather than market needs.RA has recognized the importance of matching product offerings to learner expectations, and aspired to develop offerings that would add value to current offerings, generate customer benefit and satisfaction, and increase participation in rangeland training and education.To those ends, a highly strategic, participatory and market or demand-driven approach, called social marketing (Andreasen 1995), was adopted to guide the overall development of the rangeland-specific curriculum and courses, and learner support.

Key steps have included:

  • Listening to stakeholders to clarify current and future knowledge and skill needs
  • Surveys to clarify knowledge and skill gaps in key market segments
  • Examining the alignment of offerings with expressed needs to clarify how RA could best ‘add value’ in the VET and higher education sectors
  • Developing a Quality Assurance scheme for course development, delivery and improvement
  • Understanding the market for learning in rural and regional Australia to identify the barriers to learning and strategies to reach, attract and support mature-aged students
  • Initiatives to support mature-aged learners and the development of learning communities (eg. ‘Getting into Further Study’ short course, Rangeland Champions network)
  • Course development processes to ensure relevance to current and emerging issues, and currency of information
  • Flexible course delivery to accommodate learners’ time commitments
  • Course improvement through responsiveness to student evaluations, employer feedback and external reviewers
  • Promotion of the benefits of further education and raising awareness of educational opportunities and pathways to entry

The effectiveness of these strategies is demonstrated in:

  • The rapidly growing demand for the RangelandManagement program/courses (up 105% over each of the past 3 years, and now totaling 97 people nationally, in contrast to significant declines in enrolments in other programs in agriculture and environmental studies over the same period)
  • The growing number of invitations to present on the pathways, courses and support at industry, community and government events (ie. 37 in 2008, up from 19 in 2007 and 8 in 2006)
  • Student evaluations which show very high ratings for the quality of the educational products, their relevance to work and business (eg. average scores of 4.9 and 4.8/5.0 respectively), and the way they are changing thinking and outlooks (see 2009 brochure, available at )
  • Testimonials about the value of the suite of 12 rangeland-specific courses developed and the articulated coursework programs (see brochure and website).