Local, Independant and Effective

Regional Australia needs a higher education strategy

Posted March 26, 2018


The delivery of higher education in regional Australia is central to the prosperity of the nation. Cathy has introduced a Private Member's Bill in the House of Representatives aiming to ensure regional Australia has a comprehensive higher education strategy underpinning policy decisions of government.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (10:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Colleagues, I'm pleased to stand in the House today to introduce this Higher Education Support Amendment (National Regional Higher Education Strategy) Bill 2018, which focuses on regional higher education. I'd like to recognise in the gallery Dr Caroline Perkins, the executive director from the Regional Universities Network, RUN, who's in the chamber. RUN includes a network of universities: CQ University, Federation University Australia, Southern Cross University, University of New England, University of Southern Queensland and the University of the Sunshine Coast. They've worked with our office to strengthen and promote the contribution of regional universities to national development. I'd also like to acknowledge colleagues in the House from the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership program, and stress to you that it's all about leadership.

The delivery of higher education in regional Australia is central to the economic prosperity of this nation, and this bill provides a way forward to ensure that regional Australia has a comprehensive higher education strategy underpinning policy decisions of government. The bill mandates that the government maintains a strategic plan and analysis of regional higher education, and recognises the role of regional universities in sustaining economic growth and supporting employment in regional Australia.

Support for the delivery of higher education in regional areas is often seen only as an issue of equity, focused on improved access, participation and completion rates. And, while equity is important, regional education is also an essential driver of the national economy. I call on a national regional higher education strategy to actually put regional higher education at the centre of integrated policy and programs about education, research, innovation, employment, and, of course, regional development.

Mr Speaker, as you know, regional universities play a unique role in developing our regional economies, contributing to social and cultural development. They act as an anchor for investment and, importantly, workforce development. One of the biggest threats to sustainability of rural communities is the great export of our young people to cities. Three-quarters of students who study at regional universities actually stay in regional areas after they graduate. So regional universities educate the future workforce and help to grow and stabilise the population of regional Australia in regional Australia. This strategy must be developed in partnership with all levels of government and with regional higher education providers, their representative bodies and their industries. So before I conclude my comments I'd like to invite the member for Mayo to value-add to this in her role as seconder of the private member's bill.

But I say to my colleagues opposite—I say to the National Party and to members of the Liberal Party from regional Australia—where are you on this? Why are you letting one size fit all? The consequence is that regional Australia gets left behind, we fall into a deficit model and we are not able to take our place—our rightful place—in developing this whole country. One size does not fit all: the tyranny of distance and the issues facing regional Australia need to be taken and addressed in their own right.

I absolutely call on the National Party and I call on the regional members from the Liberal Party: get up here! Can I say to my colleagues: 'See their interest. Where are they? Why are they not here today to be part of this debate?' I say they're not here because they don't care. This is a stunning call-out to all the people in rural and regional Australia who vote for the coalition, hoping that they would bring their voice to parliament. They singularly, repeatedly fail us.

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