'I started to dream of owning my own business but it was scary. I talked to a local business owner and he suggested doing a business course at TAFE or university.'
Cathy and her two children live in regional New South Wales, close to her elderly parents. She left school after Year 10, got a job at the local supermarket and worked her way up to become assistant manager. She began to think about being her own boss and is now studying for a business degree . ‘I didn’t want to move away to study,’ she says, ‘so it was great to find out that I could do that via distance education.’
'Being in a small town and with a couple of kids and elderly parents, I didn’t want to move away to study. I found an Indigenous support centre connected to one of the regional unis which gave me information about how I could study via distance education. Now I can study from home online and use study guides and CDs and stuff they send me.'
At the supermarket, Cathy learned about business and how all the systems worked. Thinking that she could do this for herself, she began to dream of owning her own business. But the idea was scary. She sought out the advice of a local business owner, who suggested she should consider doing a business course at TAFE or university.
Cathy had no idea how to get into further education. She was in her late 20s and thought it was impossible. 'People had always said that someone like me couldn't go to uni or run their own business,' she says. But Cathy was determined and when she found out she could do a short course at uni to build and assess her skills, she seized the opportunity to prove them all wrong.
The Indigenous support centre at one of the regional universities gave her lots of information about business courses available through distance education. Armed with that information, Cathy was able to make the right course choices. After the skills assessment course, she did two first-year papers to see how she coped. 'It was the best feeling when I passed those with flying colours.' Now she is part way through her degree course.
Making the decision to study was not hard. Working it all out in reality was challenging. But all the way through, Cathy has had the support of the Indigenous student centre which, she says, has made her feel more confident and has connected her with other students in the same situation.
Understandably, Cathy was anxious about the cost of education, but because she studies via distance education she is able to keep on working and earning an income. She applied for an Indigenous Access Scholarship, which helped to get her started.
Her other big worry was about the workload. 'I didn’t know if I could cope with studying fulltime and working fulltime – and, most importantly, still find time for my family. I really didn’t want to start this and then be working too hard and fail or drop out. But I get support from the uni over the phone and online, and my parents help me with the kids when I need to study. And I've been lucky to get other scholarships through the uni to help with fees so I can cut down my working hours at assignment time.'
The distance education course requires Cathy to go to the university a couple of weekends a semester. She has found it really rewarding meeting other students who are studying the same way. 'It's interesting to hear other people's stories and to know that you are not alone,' she says. Sometimes Cathy finds it gets a bit difficult studying at home on her own, usually late at night after everyone has gone to bed. 'But I have a few of my close uni friends online, and we all encourage each other and give each other motivation. And my lecturers are online, so if I have a problem I can just contact them. It’s almost better than being at uni fulltime – I can do what I want, when I want to, even in my pyjamas!'
As Cathy says, you can still get a higher education if you live in the country. She admits that sometimes it’s been tough. But she just keeps reminding herself why she's doing it: 'It's for yourself, your family and your kids – and that keeps me motivated.'
- Cathy, now in her late 20s, lives in regional New South Wales and has worked at the local supermarket since she left school after Year 10. She starts to think about opening her own business and decides that getting some further education is a sensible first step.
- She doesn't want to leave her community and her elderly parents, so – with the support of the Indigenous student centre at uni – she considers studying via distance education.
- Cathy continues to work full-time so she can support her family and she has received some scholarships to help with costs.
- Studying alone can be difficult but Cathy keeps in contact with her lecturers and other students online. She suggests that studying at home 'in comfort' is better than being on campus full-time.
- The Indigenous student centre is Cathy's 'life-saver', giving her all the information she needs and providing continuing support throughout her time at university.