In planning for higher education in regional and rural communities, the following eight key points were reached.
- Regional tertiary education warrants a higher order policy focus
- Regional tertiary education policy would benefit from a principle driven approach, which includes putting regional student, community and economic needs at the center of policy design
- There is a need to holistically consider relationships between communities, employers and individuals within regional tertiary education policy
- There is a need to stimulate demand for regional higher education through targeted schools and community outreach
- There is a need to better support interaction across TAFE and higher education, and cut through perceptions of cost shifts between State and Commonwealth governments
- Demand for regional higher education would benefit from improved capacity for institutions to offer high status and demand programs in regional locations
- Demand for regional higher education would benefit from investment in high speed internet and collaborative learning infrastructure (TAFE – university, multi-versity)
- Regional higher education would benefit from fairer access to contestable funding streams such as research funding
Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO, said the enthusiasm to discuss the issues surrounding the future of higher education in regional Australia demonstrated people wanted to have a say in how the education system operates.
Ms McGowan thanked everyone for attending, including fellow MPs Andrew Wilkie and Sharon Bird, and Senators Lee Rhiannon and Bridget McKenzie.
“More than 130 people attended and there was plenty of interest in how the proposed deregulation of university fees would impact regional communities,” she said.
“A one-size-fits-all approach will have a negative impact, we must be aware of the challenges and for regional universities to be able to meet them.”
The Forum was told that university participation is lower in regional areas and is not increasing as fast it is in metropolitan areas. This situation has not changed and is not changing. As a result in 2014, the proportion of 20-64 year olds with a bachelor qualification or higher in regional areas was 17.7% and in remote areas was 16.2% compared to 32.6% in metropolitan areas.
The importance of taking a student-centred approach, creating engagement with school students and parents and building partnerships with schools, community and industry were seen as critical factors to ensure equity of university participation and success.
Ms McGowan said MPs and Senators who were unable to attend were interested in what was discussed at the Forum. Federal Parliament resumes next week and Ms McGowan will be taking the outcomes to Canberra.
“It’s crucial students and universities in regional Australia are not disadvantaged in any education reforms. We know better education leads to better outcomes for students and by extension, employers and business and communities,” the Independent Member for Indi said.
“The future prosperity of regional Australia will be largely dependent on us getting it right.”