Professor Greg Hill, Regional Universities Network chairman, last week put forward the argument for the group of six universities – including Federation University – that they are not only the life-blood of so many cities but a key to successful future pathways for tens of thousands of young people.
He argued building a clever and prosperous country also requires clever and prosperous regions and overcoming the gap in educational achievement between regional and rural students and metropolitan students was a critical part of this objective.
The disparities are stark. The proportion of 25 to 34 year-olds with a Year 12 education in major cities is over 80 per cent, compared to 60 to 70 per cent in the regions.
Almost 45 per cent of people in the same age bracket in major cities have a bachelor degree, compared to around 20 to 25 per cent in the regions.
Education builds the foundations of the future and higher education tells us what that future will look like but what we know is one size does not fit all. In Australia in the regions this future-shaping contribution is disproportionately high to the scarcity of resources and available numbers. One only has to consider a fraction of the economic, social, cultural and intellectual contributions any university contributes to a regional city to consider how integral they are to the fabric of its future. As such Professor Hill also argued regional universities need the flexibility to enrol as many students as they wish and put on new courses where required at regional campuses
Last months Auditor’s General report underscored an insecure long-term viability of Federation University. The report may hold no surprises for university management but for the general public what should come as a shock is contemplating the future of Ballarat and the wider region – including Horsham – without a tertiary institution. Its contribution conversely is proportionate to its loss. To have a region without a high calibre university is unthinkable; not only a debilitating brain-drain on its business and broader economy but a dangerous black hole in opportunities for all its youth.
Federation University’s Helen Bartlett has outlined the strategy she believes will secure that future. But its success hinges on a federal government that will recognise value to the regions. If decentralisation is to be more than an empty political buzzword treating regional tertiary institutions distinctly becomes an imperative.