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Regions are vital in shaping Universities Accord

It is critical that the Federal Government’s new Universities Accord addresses the challenges and untapped opportunities for regional universities, says University of the Sunshine Coast Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett.

Professor Bartlett said the higher education policy blueprint, announced yesterday by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, was one of the most important reforms for universities for generations.

“Regional communities host the greatest untapped potential for increasing access to university study and opportunity on a national scale, with many metropolitan areas approaching or already having reached saturation point with higher education participation rates,” Professor Bartlett said.

“We are looking forward to working with the panel to ensure this generational reform can transform the nation’s university sector for the good of not just our region, or regional Australia, but for all Australians.”

“Current university funding mechanisms reward universities that operate at scale in large urban markets, so it is vitally important that the Accord process considers new, longer term funding models for regional universities.

“This will ensure the sustainability of regional universities’ high quality teaching, research and community engagement outcomes and allow them to continue to play a transformative role across Australia’s rural and regional centres.” 

The Federal Government’s Universities Accord process is taking place at a time of record low unemployment and significant skills shortages across several occupations, and the impact is strongly felt in regions.

“Universities like UniSC, whose footprint stretches from Brisbane to the Fraser Coast, play an integral role universities in the economic fabric of regional Australia and in addressing this skills shortage,” Professor Bartlett said.

 “Our graduates are important to the regions, with seven out of ten of them staying there to work and contribute to their communities’ social and economic prosperity.” 

A 2020 report commissioned the Regional Universities Network, of which UniSC is a member, that found the combined contribution to real GDP in regional campus areas totalled $2.4 billion in 2018. Around 11,300 jobs were created through direct and indirect employment. More than 60,000 students are drawn to RUN regional campuses each year to study.

“With an additional university now having joined the network, those contributions will have increased significantly since 2020,” Professor Bartlett said.

The latest Student Experience Survey data from 2021/2022 rated UniSC the best public university in Queensland and second nationally. UniSC students reported a quality of educational experience eight percent higher than the national average.

“UniSC has a long and proud history of attracting and successfully supporting students from regional and remote locations and disadvantaged backgrounds who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education,” Professor Bartlett said.

“We are a vital anchor in our local communities, creating opportunity for more people to achieve their ambitions through participating and succeeding in university study.

“Nearly half our 18,000 students at UniSC are the first in their family to attend university, and their achievements are helping to transform their own lives alongside strengthening their communities.”

Research is another vital contribution area for regional universities, with UniSC leading regionally beneficial and globally impactful research aligned to existing and emerging areas of strength, including sustainability, forestry and healthy ageing.

“As the only university in the world whose campuses sit on three connected UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, we take great pride in knowing our research and teaching contributes to creating an international site of excellence where people live and work sustainably alongside active conservation and sustainable development,” Professor Bartlett said.

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