Moree distance university students now have a dedicated space they can go to study, work on assessments and complete exams, with the Country Universities Centre (CUC) North West now open for business.
The CUC North West, which has a site in Moree and one in Narrabri, was opened to students on July 8, and already 35 people have registered to use the facility - a one-stop shop with all the resources local students need to successfully complete their degrees.
The Moree site features a computer room, lecture room, meeting space and a fully-equipped kitchen, and is complete with wifi, computers, printers, photocopiers, and video conferencing technology.
CUC North West manager Cathy Walters said the response from students has been extremely positive.
"It's been great, the students are loving it," she said.
"Students can come from 7am to midnight and it's staffed at some point every day. Students can access it via a swipe card."
Perhaps best of all is that the centre offers education support and mentorship from CUC North West coordinator Sumati Chakravarti-Cook, a former university lecturer and academic who is an applied linguist by trade.
Sumati's academic support and advice has already been beneficial for students.
"It has helped to have Sumati, who herself is a lecturer and academic and fully understands the complexities I've got to go through to manage my time and assessments," mature age student Paula Jackson, who is studying a Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge through Southern Cross University, said.
"Sumati's a God-send. Having someone here who has lectured before makes a world of difference. If I need Sumati's help with an assessment, she's there for me. I can't always talk to lecturers at the drop of a hat."
Laura Adcock, who is in her first year of a Bachelor of Education (Primary) through the University of New England, agrees.
"Sumati's really good; I've given her a few assignments to look over to see if I'm on the right track, and I got a really good mark on one which is good," Laura said.
"Even just to have her check over my work, it's another set of eyes."
Laura finished year 12 at Moree Secondary College last year and had decided to try studying by distance during her first year of university, and if it didn't work, she was planning to move on campus next year.
However, since the CUC has opened, she thinks she will now stay in Moree, where she can live at home and work.
"I've found it really good; it's a really good space to come to study," she said.
"I work at 61 Balo, so I can walk over after work. I'm at work at 6am and finish at 12pm, so I come here after work until 5pm."
Fellow student Adam Quinn, who has just started a Bachelor of Information Studies through Charles Sturt University, has benefitted from the extended opening hours.
"It's fantastic ... I work until 5pm everyday, so I can come at night," he said.
Another student, Kelly James, a working mum who is in her second year of a Bachelor of Criminology through Griffith University, likes the fact that the centre provides her with a space to come and dedicate time to studying.
"It makes it easier to be able to come somewhere to get assignments and exams done," she said.
"When you're at home, you're distracted by the kids, family issues, white noise, housework. I like to be able to go somewhere to do stuff, so I dedicate time to do that. I actually finished an assessment earlier than 11.58pm on the due date since this has been opened, because you know when you come here, that's what you're doing."
CUC North West chair Cathy Redding said it's great to see the centre opened and accessible to students, all of whom have appreciated having a dedicated study space.
"All the students I've spoken to, the thing they say is 'we're so glad we've got somewhere like this to come'," she said.
"That's the whole purpose of it. And no doubt, in the very near future, it will grow. Now that the centre's open, we will really start to promote it."
Board member Mitchell Johnson said this centre could be the difference between someone going to uni or not.
"It keeps young people in town," he said.
"They can stay at home with mum and dad, find work locally and study at the same time."
CUC CEO Duncan Taylor visited the Moree and Narrabri sites on Wednesday, along with Education Minister Dan Tehan and Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government and Member for Parkes Mark Coulton.
"I'm really excited we're moving into the next phase of taking students," Mr Taylor said.
"That's what this project is all about - students being supported and able to study while staying home with family and work."
Mr Coulton said the Coalition Government's $829,000 investment in the hub will give local students greater choice and access to opportunities.
"The cost of moving to study can be a significant burden on students and families and a barrier to going to university, so we want our children to have the opportunity to live at home and stay in their communities while still getting a tertiary education," he said.
"The Regional Study Hub in Moree and Narrabri will provide study spaces, academic support, video conferencing and other support for students studying via distance at partner universities.
"There should be equality of opportunity to access higher education for every Australian, no matter where they live. By providing more higher education and training opportunities in the Parkes electorate, we can retain skills and experience that will boost our local economy and keep our communities vibrant."
Mr Tehan said the Coalition Government is investing in regional and remote education to expand the tertiary opportunities available to students living in the regions.
"Young Australians living in regional areas are half as likely to have a university level qualification as those living in cities and our government is addressing this inequality by improving access to higher education in areas like Moree and Narrabri," he said.
"The Coalition Government has committed $39 million to establish Regional Study Hubs in over 23 locations across regional Australia so that regional students can access tertiary study without leaving their local communities."
The CUC North West is available to all students studying through an Australian university.
Those seeking studying options are encouraged to go to www.cucnorthwest.org.au, or pop into the Moree or Narrabri site to chat to Cathy or Sumati.