EVERY year about 30,000 regional Queensland students do not finish high school.
Experts say this barely believable figure is the main reason regions are slipping further behind Brisbane in the livability stakes.
In Brisbane, 81 per cent of students get to the end of Year 12. No regional city gets to 70 per cent completion and several towns barely register a 50 per cent completion rate.
With the state election under way, we are making the fate of our young people the No 1 priority. Today we launch our Fair Go For Our Kids campaign aimed at forcing politicians to close the gaps.
Education experts say there are solutions - more specialist teachers in regional areas and for existing teachers to be given the chance to upskill to minimise the risks of teaching out of their field of expertise.
The need is clear: Brisbane's completion rate is significantly higher than every regional city in Queensland.
ABS data reveals just 57 per cent of students finished Year 12 in Bundaberg in 2016, and just 54 per cent finished in Gympie and the Fraser Coast.
Similarly, fewer regional school leavers go on to study at university than in Brisbane.
Torrens University's Social Atlas of Australia shows 46 per cent of Brisbane 17-year-olds are enrolled in higher education. In regional cities that number is between 20 per cent and 33 per cent.
Just 32 per cent of Sunshine Coast school leavers are going to university. That number drops below 25 per cent in Townsville, Ipswich and Toowoomba and below 20 per cent in the Fraser Coast and Warwick.
Country Education Foundation of Australia CEO Wendy Cohen said regional teachers were perfectly positioned to help students but may not have the time.
"Country students deserve to have every opportunity to participate in the workforce in any capacity they wish and not have boundaries and conditions placed on them just because of their postcode," Ms Cohen said.
"Sometimes their teachers are the very best people to assess the entire spectrum of opportunities and inspire their students to have courage and vision around their choices. Anecdotally at least, I'm not sure that teachers have the time or the knowledge to help students in this way."
Regional Universities Network CEO Caroline Perkins said low staffing meant teachers at regional high schools were often forced to teach subjects they were not experts in.
"There is a huge educational disadvantage in regional areas. It's a very serious and significant problem," she said.
"We need to be able to encourage teachers in regional schools who might be teaching science or maths, despite not being trained in that, to do refresher courses."
"That's something the State Government can play a big part in."
Dr Perkins said regional economies were changing with demand growing for a university education.
"The traditional regional economy just didn't have the number of jobs in the professions that needed a degree. That's changing," she said.
"The growing importance of regional capitals means there are more jobs that need a degree. And the best way to get someone to go for a job in a regional area is for them to study in that area."
Dr Perkins said regional universities already performed outreach to schools in their communities to encourage students to finish school and consider a university education.
"Part of it is to engage students, getting more career advice to recommend university degrees."
But even if a regional school leaver goes to university, they are less likely to finish their degree than a city student.
Federal Government statistics show drop-out rates are lower in the three Brisbane-based universities, UQ, Griffith and QUT, than in the four regionally-based universities.
Dr Perkins said this was often due to financial pressures on students who had to move to study.
Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Andrew Pierpoint said a "culture change" was needed in some regional areas to encourage more students to finish school.
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