Partnerships with Aboriginal Health Services in the Northern Territory are showcasing the quality and reach of RMIT's vocational education.
From a base in Katherine, 300km southeast of Darwin, Sunrise Health Service operates 10 community-controlled health centres in small towns and remote communities across the region.
With limited access to reliable and relevant training, there is a lack of skilled workers locally.
By deploying skills familiar to RMIT's vocational education teachers, Xenia Girdler has developed a program to deliver the Diploma of Community Services (Alcohol, Other Drugs and Mental Health) and the Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs to Sunrise staff and other health agencies in the Katherine region.
Ms Girdler, Program Coordinator in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, recruited expert industry facilitators from her own networks to partner with local services, designing a program that understands the realities faced by the remote workforce and provides a qualification with real impact on service delivery and workforce well-being.
Education and training in the Northern Territory is often centred in the capital city of Darwin, with limited curriculum, face-to-face training, contextualised training and local skilled workforce.
"In Australia, programs and services are still funded on a per-capita basis, so consequently the Northern Territory - which is larger than Italy, Germany and France put together and has a population slightly less than 300,000 - does not do well in the training stakes," Ms Girdler said.
The reality of living in extremely remote communities with no retail outlets, a weather-dominated existence and a very limited supply of fresh food is alien to most people in Australia.
"There is a limited supply of everything - no high school, no local employment and no training opportunities," Ms Girdler said.
"Water supply is unreliable, housing is overcrowded and there is limited infrastructure, no hospitals and no GPs.
"Katherine hosts over 300,000 tourists each year yet there is limited local training in Katherine or the Greater Katherine region."
Empowering students - with significant input into the practice themes for their training that is delivered locally - provides a unique and positive way for the community to move forward.
"Putting weight on feedback from the students and their employers regarding the program also ensures the applicability of the training to the workplace," Ms Girdler said.
As well as Sunrise staff in the Northern Territory, RMIT students for the program have included service managers from other organisations and companies, carers in residential programs and police officers.
In 2013, RMIT celebrated the graduation of 16 diploma participants at a ceremony in Katherine, presided over by Professor David Hayward, Dean, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies.
"The engagement with Sunrise and our other Northern Territory partners captures new ways of thinking about tertiary education provision, and new ways of linking research and education," Professor Hayward said.
This week, another graduation ceremony will be held for 12 Diploma students and 10 students of the Certificate IV.
"The success of RMIT's training can be attributed to a number of elements: timely delivery schedules, high completion rates - with over 90 per cent completing - and Ms Girdler's collaborative approach to the curriculum design," Professor Hayward said.
The distinctive approach has resulted in high demand for both the Certificate IV and Diploma programs commencing in Alice Springs, Katherine and the remote Arnhem Land community Ngukkur.
RMIT's engagement with agencies in the Katherine region has revealed demand for access to a range of qualifications.
A group of final year Bachelor of Social Work students recently took up placements with Sunrise.
The School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and the School of Vocational Business Education are also exploring how to make a range of qualifications and work placements available in the Northern Territory.
Prior to these partnerships, RMIT's presence in the Top End was limited.
Now holding a reputation in the Territory as an innovative education provider, the University is in a position to extend its education and research activities in the Katherine region and beyond.
"I found listening, watching and listening some more is the only way to approach the design and delivery of quality education and training," Ms Girdler said.
"Working together we explore all the possibilities, embrace the principles of two-way learning and provide hope and choice for people living in remote Australia."