Flinders Uni weighs up Riverland expansion

A South Australian university wants to increase its course offerings in the Riverland as part of a push to get more healthcare workers to stay in regional areas.

Key points:The university and the Renmark Paringa Council have signed an MOU to grow tertiary education in the RiverlandThere are hopes expanding the courses offered will help to boost the workforce and services in the areaMany young people leave the area to study in cities and often never return

Flinders University operates a campus in Renmark that offers a nursing degree and the opportunity for third-year medicine students to study and complete placement in regional SA.

But now the Adelaide-based institution wants to expand this offering to include a range of allied health degrees aimed at addressing skill shortages in the Riverland, including speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, dietetics, social work and developmental education.

"We know there are really significant workforce shortages in health and allied health is a primary area for that shortage," Flinders University professor Chris Brebner said.

"That's national, and it's really quite a problem in regional and rural areas, and the Riverland certainly has this shortage."

The university is looking to start the new courses at the Renmark campus by 2023.

A masked nurse adjusts their blue plastic glove in an operation room
Nursing is the only degree that can be completed at the Renmark campus.(Rawpixel: Chanikarn Thongsupa)

Study at home, stay at home

Dr Brebner said there was evidence from universities across Australia that people who studied in one place were more likely to stay there once they entered the workforce.

"As soon as students come down to the city we lose a proportion of them, because they settle in the city," she said.

"They might meet someone or put down their roots, so they're less likely to move home.

"Other factors are important, like being able to get that practical experience in regional areas."

Under Flinders University's proposal, students studying different degrees would take some universal classes together while studying discipline-specific courses in an alternative way.

"We know that all of the professional bodies are keen for students to work in an interprofessional way, because they work as teams when they graduate and enter the workforce," Dr Brebner said.

She said the investigation was in its early stages and that the university had many things to consider before committing to the expansion.

People face computers inside a library.
The university and Renmark Paringa Council are trying to find a way to boost the local workforce.(ABC News: Malcolm Sutton)

Youth lost to the cities

Flinders University and the Renmark Paringa Council have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore opportunities for tertiary education growth in Renmark.

It outlines opportunities for collaboration between the two parties to find the best methods to address workforce shortages in the Riverland through the Renmark campus.

At the moment two hospital services in the Riverland and Mallee are closed due to unexpected staffing shortages.

Corporate and Community Services director Tim Pfieffer says it is also a chance for the district to grow its population and provide more services to its residents.

"We know that there are substantial numbers of kids who leave to go down to the city for education purposes," he said.

"As a community and as a region we know we struggle to attract and retain health professionals, particularly in allied health.

"You need to have a critical mass of all services – whether it's health, education or anything else – in order to grow a community."

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