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Indi Electorate: La Trobe University speech, March 25, 2014

Posted March 26, 2014


Adjournment Debate, Indi Electorate: La Trobe University speech, March 25

I rise to talk about the importance of tertiary education in rural and regional communities. Indi is blessed by the presence 
of two branches of universities—La Trobe has a campus in Wodonga and CSU has a small branch in Wangaratta.

We also have two TAFE colleges, GOTAFE in Wangaratta and Wodonga Institute of TAFE. La Trobe University is the largest provider of tertiary education in regional Victoria.

Tonight, I would like to concentrate my remarks on the Albury-Wodonga campus of La Trobe. It employs 85 staff, has an enrolment of around 900 undergraduate and postgraduate students and offers programs in health sciences, business, science, arts and education.

La Trobe's Albury-Wodonga campus hosts three research centres: the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research
Centre; the Centre for Water Policy and Management; and the John Richards Research Initiative into Aged
Care in Rural Communities, which is working on ground breaking research on rural wellness. It is funded
by the Australian Research Council and has undertaken research in Victoria, Queensland and Canada. La
Trobe University sponsors the very popular and erudite Kerferd Oration, which is held annually in the beautiful
town of Beechworth. 

For the people of Indi, access to tertiary education is a key priority. Sadly, there is a gap between the aspiration and the reality. In the Hume region, which covers a large percentage of Indi, tertiary education participation rates are low. In 2012 they were at 30 per cent, when the Victorian state average was closer to, and sometimes predicted to be over, 40 per cent.

The reasons are many, but they can be summarised under a number of headings. One heading is cost—the cost of courses, of living away from home and of accessing study. A second heading is geography, which includes the related issues of distance, lack of public transport and the need to live away from home.

A third heading is limited provisions, with only two campuses both of which are situated in the northern part of the electorate.

A fourth heading is poor communication networks, which makes distance education problematic. The final
heading is that of class, as many believe that "Going to university is not for me; it is not what our family does".
La Trobe University in Albury-Wodonga is working hard to address these barriers.

Approximately 65 per cent of its students are the first in their families to go to university, 85 per cent are from low SES backgrounds and 65 per cent are commencing university for the first time and are over 20 years old.

One effective program to bring closer engagement between the university and the community is the Commonwealth government funded Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program. HEPPP supports La Trobe University to

work with school students to build aspirations and identify achievable pathways to tertiary education.
This work is paying dividends. One of the greatest outcomes is that 90 per cent of 2012 graduates from La
Trobe's Albury-Wodonga campus are employed in our local area, with only 10 per cent going away to the city
following graduation. I see and experience the impact of these graduates every day.

Research into rural community development shows that, where educational institutions exist in rural communities, they provide a focus for the arts, for community renewal, for entrepreneurship and for business. We know that education is both a public good and a private asset, we know that rural communities benefit where there are strong regional educational
institutions and we know that the public good of an educated and skilled workforce brings with it high levels of capacity and capability, especially for innovation.

But not all is well in the area of tertiary education.

Where we need growth, development and innovation, we are facing contraction and reduction. One of the causes is the efficiency dividend, which will severely reduce funding to La Trobe by $30 million between 2014 and 2017.

These cuts will have a significant impact on teaching, learning and research grants. It is a most worrying development.
In closing, it is my belief that, of all the investments a community can make, investment in education gives
some of the best returns.

Tonight I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to the staff, students and families who support the work of La Trobe University. We, as a community, are grateful for your work and dedication.

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