Queensland’s Balonne Shire Council has won the annual Butch Lenton Memorial Bush Council Innovation Award for its higher-education pilot developed in partnership with the Country Universities Centre (CUC).
Announced at the Local Government Association of Queensland annual conference gala dinner, Balonne Shire Council will receive a $10,000 bursary from Peak Services, which will enable a community literacy and numeracy program to be implemented.
Balonne Shire Mayor, Samantha O’Toole said the project was a win on so many levels, tying into Council’s vision to grow educational opportunities within the region and for the community to ‘grow its own’ into the future.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and it shows our future in Balonne is brighter because we are changing our community one student at a time,” Mayor O’Toole said.
The CUC Balonne is a Queensland-first low population higher-education pilot for local students which is run out of the multi award-winning community facility known as The Hub.
Mayor O’Toole said the CUC Balonne was exceeding targets and expectations, proving the community need for a supported educational experience.
“We currently have 70 students, studying through 29 different institutions, registered to use the CUC Balonne. 42% are studying health courses, 11.5% study education and 10% study Ag & Rural Sciences, so we’re seeing some trends in what our local community is interested in studying.”
“We also see the benefits in the fact that 43% of those students identified as first in family to study at a tertiary level. That’s a great achievement for a rural community and we’ll see the real benefits in a few years’ time, when those students graduate and use their skills and knowledge in their home town.”
Since the Centre began operating, 127 students have been supported through the CUC Balonne.
A Learning Skills Advisor has recently been appointed to provide general academic support to students studying through the Centre, and a First Nations Community Engagement and Support Coordinator is also being recruited, which is a first for the entire network.
Mayor O’Toole said there was more work to be done to expand the program.
“We are about to apply funding under phase two of the Regional Partnership Project Pool Program for a community-based approach to aspiration building and widening participation in higher education. The bursary that the Butch Lenton Memorial Bush Council Innovation Award brings with it will help us to achieve that next phase.”
Council says it will use the bursary to implement a Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) program, which will include digital literacy. The goal of this project is to provide support the most vulnerable, isolated and disadvantaged parts of the Balonne community and lay the foundation for transition to employment, promotion or further study.