UNE initiative to boost professional services in rural areas

Published 16 May 2008

roxy.jpgThe University of New England has launched an initiative aimed at making it easier for professional people to live and work in rural areas.

UNE’s Faculty of The Professions hosted a Rural Professions Summit in Bingara last Friday to find solutions to the national shortage of professional services in rural areas. The Summit (at The Roxy, pictured here) brought together – from all over Australia – 40 representatives of professions including law, education, accounting, management, health, and allied health.

The participants met several local professionals to discuss some of the challenges they face on a daily basis. They also reviewed a survey of more than 100 professionals, mostly from rural areas, that showed these challenges are widespread and growing.

The survey revealed that concerns about the welfare of their own families often make it hard for professionals to deliver the support to rural communities that they think is needed. It also revealed that some communities are not well equipped to make the best use of what is available, and that for others it will be necessary to change the way services are provided if they are to get the support they need.

“Recruiting expert professionals for rural areas poses significant problems – not just for the government, but for businesses, professional associations, and rural communities themselves,” said the project leader, Dr Amanda Kennedy from UNE’s School of Law. “Demand is generally greater than the supply of these services, for reasons including the ageing population, the mobility of professionals, and perceptions about the welfare and development of rural practitioners.”

“The outcomes of the Summit were exciting – and hopeful,” Dr Kennedy said. “The participants developed concepts for innovations that could ensure the welfare of rural professionals and their families, and significantly improve service delivery. These include different approaches to services, better support for families, better arrangements to make communities welcoming, and a range of opportunities to improve skills and management arrangements.”

She said the Summit had highlighted, for the Faculty of The Professions, “the many opportunities that are available – through a range of innovative solutions – to help rural professionals and the communities in which they operate.”

The Rural Professions Research Initiative, led by Dr Kennedy and Professor Paul Martin, is intended to lead to a series of projects, across the Faculty of The Professions, that will help to overcome the challenges identified. As a result of the Summit, the Faculty is already scoping applications for research projects that should make a difference to the lives of rural professionals, helping them to support the communities in which they live and work.

For more information, or to become involved, contact Dr Kennedy on (02) 6773 3493 or amanda.kennedy@une.edu.au.