Over 120 students flood new Country Uni Centre at Roma

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
December 23 2021 - 11:00pm
Maranoa CUC manager Bec Coffey, students Nick Whip and Anna Rowbotham, and chairman Cam O'Neill at the end-of-year function in Roma. Photo: Supplied

The Maranoa Country University Centre was expecting 60 students would make use of its study facility when it opened in March, but by the end of 2021 it had 126 studying at its Roma base.

The centre, one of a number across Australia but the first in Queensland, gives tertiary and vocational education students a space for any or all of their study, at no cost, and it seems like it might have opened at the perfect time.

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Local CUC chairman Cameron O'Neill said a number of students in the third and fourth years of their degrees had told them that if the centre hadn't been open, they would have found it too difficult to continue their studies.

"We always thought there was a need for this, but then COVID pushed the students back to communities," he said.

"There were some opportunities amid the COVID challenge - it's a real win for us.

"It cements the business case for long-term viability that needs support from all forms of government."

Seed funding of $3m was provided by the federal government to provide three years of operation, and Santos, Origin and Powerlink, as well as the Maranoa Regional Council, are foundation sponsors.

Mr O'Neil said that showed the buy-in from business for the model.

The centre is at the rear of the Maranoa Civic and Cultural Centre in Roma, leased from the Maranoa Regional Council, and has 18 open plan desks and seven offices.

The "fastest internet speed possible", a 100MB download, is available.

Mr O'Neill said by and large, most users were not doing full-time study and so not all 126 enrolments were there at the one time aiming to fulfill their dreams.

Two local students completed their degrees studying via the CUC this year, Nick Whip, who completed a Bachelor of Agriculture and a Bachelor of Business through UNE, while Anna Rowbotham finished a Bachelor of Agribusiness and Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture at UQ.

She said the CUC would be really good for the region.

She undertook the first three years of her study internally at UQ Gatton, and it was during her third year that COVID restrictions came into force.

"Uni went all online - I stayed down south because I had a house there, but then I thought, I would probably be better off at home," Ms Rowbotham said. "Hearing that the CUC had started really solidified my decision."

Before that, slower wifi internet at home, plus an open plan house style that wasn't conducive to study, contributed to her decision to remain down south.

"CUC helped me separate uni from home," she said. "You went there and smashed out your study."

She said it was a great step forward in encouraging young people to stay in the region, rather than them all having to trek away and needing to be enticed back.

Mr O'Neill, also a Maranoa Regional councillor, said it had been borne off the back of council policy eight or nine years ago to diversify the economy, so that it wasn't as reliant on oil and gas.

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"When the model for the CUC came across our desks, we grabbed it," he said.

"One outcome is the ability it gives students to fulfil their goals from this area.

"People don't have to go away now if they don't want to."

He said the centre accepted students of any age interested in studying there, adding that there was ample room.

Centres at St George and Dirranbandi are in the throes of being established.

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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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