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USQ program attracts international interest

Students from Stanford University travelled to Ipswich to check out USQ’s Making the Connection project.

A USQ project that provides learning pathways to prisoners has caught the attention of one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

USQ Ipswich recently welcomed a student team of computer scientists from Stanford University who travelled from the United States’ west coast for a first-hand look at USQ’s Making the Connection project.

The project provides prisoners the opportunity to access higher education, despite their inability to go online, and gain the digital skills they need for future employment.

The group started their trip with a visit to Borallon Training and Correctional Centre, one of 29 prisons and secure environments across the country currently participating in the program, where they met some of USQ’s incarcerated students and education officers.

They later headed to the University’s Ipswich campus where they were shown the offline version of USQ’s learning management system, StudyDesk, which is installed on participating correctional centre's education servers.

They also heard from USQ Career Development Practitioner Sarah Mitchell who provided details about the career education services available to incarcerated students via the program.

Stanford team member Katherine Erdman, a Masters student in computer science, said the group hoped to apply these insights to their project, which is being built on Oracle Cloud and has the support of the Oracle Cloud Innovation Accelerator program.

“We’re hoping to develop a modular learning platform that can help formerly incarcerated people become more active in the workforce and reduce the risk of reoffending by equipping them with the tools and core digital literacy skills they need to succeed,” Ms Erdman said.

“The work USQ is doing to deliver education to prisoners by using digital technology and e-learning is unique – we haven’t been able to find anything like it in the world.”

USQ is the largest provider of higher education into correctional centres in Australia, working with correctional institutions for more than 30 years.

Since the Making the Connection project launched, the percentage of eligible prisoners engaged with tertiary education in Queensland has doubled. USQ has since transitioned the project into an ongoing commitment to supporting incarcerated students with this approach.

Incarcerated Students Coordinator Stephen Seymour said the interest shown by the Stanford students was an indication the project was gaining international recognition and further highlights the world-class research and projects happening at USQ.

“This is a huge coup for us and says a lot about USQ’s standing as a leader in this space,” Mr Seymour said.

“It is also great recognition for our partners in the correctional centre because without their commitment we wouldn’t be able to deliver this program.”

Queensland Corrective Services Borallon Training and Correctional Centre Acting General Manager Alan Houchin said the centre was proud to partner with USQ to maximise prisoner outcomes.

“We are committed to rehabilitating prisoners to break the cycle of reoffending and this partnership is another example of how we are doing that,” Mr Houchin said.

“The life and vocational skills prisoners learn will increase their chances of remaining offence free, which helps to keep the community safe.”

Three people at desk
Stanford University students Katherine Erdman and Chetan Rane with USQ’s Stephen Seymour.