Delivery of tertiary educational opportunities by regional institutions
The significant contribution of universities with campuses in
regional Australia is undeniable. They play a crucial role in regional economic
growth and development and the social and cultural life of their communities.
As such, their impacts often extend far beyond traditional educational and
research activities. They are often central to regional economic and labour
force benefits, including retaining graduates and professionals in the regions,
generating diverse employment opportunities, and promoting regional research
This chapter of the report explores two challenges faced by regional
institutions: the funding of regional institutions and attracting students to
study at these institutions.
The Review of Australian Higher Education (the Bradley Review) highlighted
the importance of regional universities to regional communities, and put
forward a plan for how universities could better provide for the communities
Australia needs a sustainable system of higher education
provision in regional and remote areas. Provision needs to be flexible and
innovative. It must anticipate and respond rapidly to local needs. Providers in
regional and remote areas need to be encouraged and supported to build upon
partnerships with local communities, providers in other sectors of education,
businesses and industry. Such arrangements will involve institutional
cross-collaboration and partnerships, including sharing the use of facilities
Submissions and evidence to the inquiry also highlighted the fundamental
role that universities play in the sustainability of regional communities, as
the University of New England explained in its submission:
In addition to the academic importance of regional
universities, their contribution to regional communities in respect to economic
inputs cannot be underestimated. Aside from the obvious, immediate effects of
economic contribution by a major employer, a strong regional university is also
fundamental to encouraging young people to remain in their local community and
infusing their professional skills into the community. There is a real and
strong connection between vibrant rural and regional communities and the
presence of a local university.
Professor Paul Thomas, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University
of the Sunshine Coast, explained to the committee the steps that university had
taken to retain graduates in regional areas:
We as a university have got to do something about promoting
job generation. We do that by having built an innovation centre and having
created 50 new companies and over 500 jobs in which students can gain
experience when they are undertaking a degree. They can get jobs in them and
can even be given help in starting up their own companies in the region. That
is a vital part of us not just educating students but keeping them in the
region once they have [graduated].
However, the committee heard evidence and received submissions from a
number of institutions which were either based in regional areas or have
regional campuses, that the biggest challenge they faced is the cost of
providing courses due to economies of scale and distance.
The other challenge that regional institutions face is attracting
students to study at those institutions. A recurring theme through the inquiry
were students and their families stating that, where there was a local regional
university or TAFE, students were still required to move away from home because
that local institution offered only limited courses and did not offer the
course that the student wished to study.
The first section of the report discusses government measures for
funding of regional universities. The second section of the report looks at the
issue of attracting students to study at regional institutions, and discusses
ways in which regional institutions might expand course offerings and accessibility
to courses for students.
Funding for regional universities
As part of the 'Transforming Australia's Higher Education System' reform
package announced in May 2009 the Government announced changes to funding for
higher education providers. Those changes included the introduction of funding
compacts between the Australian Government and universities, a move to
student-demand driven funding, and a review of the current system of regional
loading payments to universities.
Funding Compacts and student-demand
The Australian Government's announcement of the reform package for
higher education describes the role of the 'mission-based funding compacts'
between the Government and individual universities:
...mission-based compacts [will] outline the relationship
between the Commonwealth and each university...the Australian Government will
work in partnership with universities but define clear and consistent targets
for improvement and reform which will trigger reward payments.
Compacts will be in two parts, one covering teaching and
learning and the other covering research. The Minister for Innovation,
Industry, Science and Research will be responsible for the research elements
and the Minister for Education will be responsible for the teaching and
Compacts will facilitate alignment of institutional activity
with national priorities. They will also be used to help set performance
targets for each institution in relation to quality, attainment and
participation by students from under-represented groups.
Professor Arshad Omari, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Edith Cowan
Univeristy, told the committee that, at present, the very nature of the
compacts was unclear:
The idea is that we will negotiate with the Commonwealth
government... on performance targets with respect to teaching and research. What
those performance targets will be is somewhat unclear at the moment and how
they will actually be phrased is a little bit unclear at the moment. We know
that the performance targets are aimed at the low socioeconomic, rural and
isolated - those in the social inclusion agenda - but it is not clear whether
these are top-up rewards for achieving targets or real targets where there are
penalties for not achieving them. Parallel to that we have been told that we
will get funded for every student that turns up to our university. How these
negotiations will pan out is still a bit unclear. Every time I have been to a
meeting on compacts they have not been that clear with respect to what the
reality of one of these negotiations or documents will look like.
The committee also notes the concerns of Professor Paul Thomas,
Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of the Sunshine Coast, that the
importance of regional universities to the regional community might not be
taken into account in the development of compacts:
At the moment, we are beginning discussions with the
Commonwealth about the nature of compacts and the [manner] in which they will
circumscribe what individual universities do and how they will be funded
against their missions and their key performance indicators. An interesting one
has been downplayed in the Bradley report with respect to the economic impact
of a university serving regional and rural students. Bradley has said that
there should really be a two-pronged approach to the definition of 'compacts',
one with respect to teaching and one with respect to research, which none of us
would have any problems with. Those are the core areas of what universities are
expected to address. Where they have underplayed universities in regions is in the
fact that we have other roles to do with serving the community - contributing
to regional advancement, for example, and regional economic development. If we
sat at our university and simply taught students and encouraged them to conduct
research, the best of them would still leave the region, because there are no
The University of New England (UNE), however, described in its
submission the potential of the funding compacts:
...UNE supports the introduction of mission-based compacts. The
University trusts that a UNE Compact will allow us to negotiate on special
regional requirements, specific targets, and community engagement and social
inclusion programs that require Government support. UNE expects to introduce
and expand upon existing programs and projects, within the framework of the
Compact that will enable the university to work more intensively with its
regional communities to raise aspirations for higher education, especially
among low [socioeconomic status] and Aboriginal young people, who currently are
at risk of not completing secondary school.
Another aspect of the Government's proposed reforms to university
funding is to move from a system where universities had a cap on the number of
places for which they could receive funding to a system where universities are
funded for places based on student demand. According to the Department's
submission the move to a 'student-centred' funding system will provide an
incentive for institutions to increase enrolments and provide more
opportunities for students to pursue a higher education qualifications:
Given the current comparatively low rates of participation by
students from regional areas, there is potential for this group to benefit from
additional higher education places being offered by institutions that choose to
expand their enrolment base.
The committee received some limited comments on this proposed reform.
The University of Newcastle expressed concern that student-based funding may
have significant impacts on regional universities:
The implications of student-based rather than institutional
funding...are likely to have significant impacts on regional universities in
terms of their ability to continue to offer a full range of courses. Strong
funding for regional universities to be able to continue to offer a broad range
of educational opportunities is required.
The University of Melbourne suggested extending the demand-driven
funding system to TAFE providers:
One option which ought to be considered is extending the
demand-driven funding system due to start in 2012 to all accredited higher
education providers, as originally recommended in the Bradley report. Under
such a system, the existing network of regional TAFEs would become possible
sites for higher education courses. As they could provide higher education on
top of their existing vocational education courses, TAFEs are more likely to
achieve the economies of scale needed to be able to deliver courses at a per
student cost within Commonwealth-supported place funding levels. A number of
TAFEs already offer higher education courses, and it is likely that student
demand would be significantly higher if TAFEs did not have to charge full fees,
as they generally would have to do under the currently proposed policy.
Another aspect of the reform to funding arrangements for higher
education providers is the establishment of a Structural Adjustment Fund. The
Department's submission provides the following information in relation to the
Structural Adjustment Fund:
To support continuing transformation in the higher education
sector, $400 million will be provided over four years for structural
adjustment. This includes $200 million for a capital component of structural
adjustment provided through the Government's Education Investment Fund.
The structural adjustment fund will be available to all
regional and metropolitan universities and will enable institutions to develop
This funding will promote long term sustainability in the
sector by assisting universities in making strategic decisions about their
future mission and possible ways to enhance their place in the new higher
education environment. It will replace the existing Diversity and Structural
Adjustment Fund, and will support broader strategic and capital projects. In
particular, the new fund will lay the ground work for the provision of more
sustainable higher education in regional areas.
The Department's submission states that the Australian Government
provides funding through the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund
(Diversity Fund) for 'a number of university lead projects that aim to increase
tertiary education study options for students in regional areas'.
The committee notes that the Diversity Fund is to be replaced by the Structural
Projects funded under the Diversity Fund, or its predecessor the
Collaborative and Structural Reform Fund, are categorised into three types:
(a) online learning and courses accessible via the world wide web;
(b) entry level study with a regional education provider that may be used
for access to a university course or raises the aspirations of students; and
(c) greater collaboration between higher education and vocational education
and training providers and other members of the community.
The Department's submission gives a number of examples of Diversity Fund
For example, the Integrated Rural Health Workforce Development project which is
being lead by La Trobe University (La Trobe) received $3,162,000 from the
This...project commenced in 2009 and helps establish the
Northern Victorian School of Rural and Regional Health, centred at the regional
campus in Bendigo. It enables La Trobe to specialise in the sustainable
delivery of nursing and allied health programs to address the demand for health
workers in the rural sector. The new School will engage with the health sector
across northern Victoria to develop a new clinical placement program to enhance
the learning, experience and quality of graduates. The School will further
develop links with other higher education providers in the region, such as the
Monash University Medical School and the regional TAFEs, through sharing of
resources and articulation of educational pathways. A new hub-and-spoke
delivery model will be implemented.
The committee received some evidence in relation to the structural
funding that the Government provides to universities.
Professor Paul Thomas, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of the
Sunshine Coast expressed concern that the structural adjustment funding was not
being targeted to the regional institutions which will play an important role
in the Government achieving the participation goals that it has set for
In a sense, the world-class agenda or aspirations of a
Melbourne or an [Australian National University] to become even more
significant on the world stage...is fine. But there is another issue [the] social
inclusion agenda, which heavily rests on having more rural and regional
students admitted to universities. At the moment, those [Education Investment
Fund] moneys are running out at a rate of knots and if we do not benefit as
growth regional universities then we are in serious trouble. If you look at
some of these structural reform guidelines that have been issued to date, for
example, where there are hundreds of millions of dollars again to be
distributed, they are currently framed in a way that seem to favour those
universities that are in deep trouble and that are contemplating amalgamation
or will be in financial difficulties by 2011-12. So at the one end of the
scale, moneys are being distributed to the very successful, the structural
adjustment moneys are being given to the ones in difficulties, and at the other
end of the scale, universities like my own, which is a real success story, are
failing to get the sums of money we need to deal with the students even though
we are growing by 10 per cent a year and we are bursting at the seams to admit
students who are, for the most part, low [socioeconomic status] and first in family.
TAFE Directors Australia stated that it is concerned that, despite the
details of the Structural Adjustment Funds being advised to universities, there
has been little observable change in the approach of many universities in terms
of initiatives which would benefit students in regional and remote areas.
Ms Elizabeth McGregor, a member of TAFE Directors Australia, gave the following
example of universities being willing to work with other education providers
with regards to the delivery of courses. However, as Ms McGregor points out,
the courses that the universities want to deliver might not necessarily be
those that are required within the community:
What we have noticed, and it has certainly happened in my
region, is that the structural adjustment funds at the moment are funnelled
primarily through individual universities. We have a situation in one of our
towns at the moment where there are four different universities talking either
to us or to local government about provision in relation to health. That is
great, except that they are not necessarily talking to each other, and no-one
is talking to us about information technology or business or whatever. So we
would argue that if the structural adjustment funds were available either to
the TAFE sector or to local government, what you would get is the perspective
of the community: 'These are the qualifications we need in our town for our
economy.' Then we work with the community and the business people who can help
young people to aspire to those qualifications and we potentially have a range
of universities with different capabilities working together with us and local
government to provide solutions, as opposed to the behaviour we are getting at
the moment, which the system drives, which is a single university thinking
about its mission and what it wants to do in town.
We have opened up invitations to a range of universities to
have a discussion around that. They are keen, but there are going to be no
resources that we can bring to the table to say, 'Let's take it beyond an
The committee notes that it has received limited evidence on the reforms
to university funding in the form of the establishment of compacts between
Government and individual universities and the move towards student
However, the information that the committee has received indicates that
there is some concern within some institutions as to the impact that these
reforms will have on funding for regionally-based institutions in terms of what
these universities can do to develop courses that serve the needs of their
region and attract students to study in the region.
The new student-demand driven funding will take effect from 2012, with a
transition period in place from 2010-11.
The committee also notes the concerns expressed in relation to the
Structural Adjustment Fund, in particular the allocation of funds under this
program and how universities are making use of these funds to benefit students
in regional and remote areas.
4.27 The committee recommend that a review be undertaken in 2013 to assess
the impact of funding compacts, student-driven demand funding and the
Structural Adjustment Fund on regional universities.
The Australian Government provides higher education providers with
regional campuses with a 'regional loading' in recognition of the higher costs
they face as a result of location, size and history.
To be eligible for the regional loading, a campus must be located
outside a mainland capital city, other than Darwin, and in a population centre
with fewer than 250,000 people (with the exception of Wollongong). Funding is
calculated on a campus by campus basis, and the level of funding is dependent
on the 'band' within which the campus falls based on the distance of the campus
from the closest mainland capital, and the size of the institution according to
the equivalent full time student load (EFTSL) of the campus.
1: Funding bands for regional loading.
Size of Provider
Campus is more than 300 kms
from nearest mainland capital city
Fewer than 10,000
Commonwealth supported EFTSL
Campus is more than 300 kms
from nearest mainland capital city
10,000 or more Commonwealth
Campus is less than 300 km
from nearest mainland capital city
Fewer than 10,000
Commonwealth Supported EFTLS
Campus is less than 300 kms
from nearest mainland capital city
10,000 or more Commonwealth
In 2009, the total amount of funding available for the regional loading
is $31.167 million.
The Bradley Review commented that the regional loading is 'not
sufficiently targeted to those campuses which have major problems achieving and
maintaining viable student numbers because of their location'.
The Bradley Review made the following assessment of the current
arrangements for the regional loading:
In its review of this measure, the panel could discern little
relationship in a number of cases to the existence of a loading and the
location of a campus. Even more mysterious was the underlying logic of the
weightings. But its greatest concern is that this loading for provision in
regional and remote areas provides no clear incentive to any institution or provider
to set up new programs in areas of need nor to work collaboratively with others
to address the real problems of provision in localities where there are not
enough people [to] support a viable campus. It also masks signals that
provision in areas currently served may now need serious review.
Current arrangements through the regional loading do not
appear likely to address the problems of falling participation rates in
regional and remote areas or to encourage changed patterns of provision better
aligned to need. Perhaps most importantly there is little incentive for
providers to seek out opportunities to provide programs in regional or remote
locations. For these reasons the panel has concluded that the regional loading
should be abolished and new arrangements implemented.
Witnesses to the inquiry also highlighted the inappropriateness of the
current funding model for the regional loading. For example, Mr Anthony Payne,
Head, Equity and Diversity Unit, Deakin University detailed how
cross-subsidisation by metropolitan campuses is used to make up for the
shortfall in regional loading funding:
At the moment the regional loading is totally inadequate.
Deakin University receives about $600,000 per annum in relation to its regional
and rural campuses. The additional cross-subsidy from the metropolitan
universities is more in the order of $10 million. So there is a significant
cost disincentive to providing higher education facilities in rural areas. We
do it because we have a strong commitment to it: it is part of our mandate.
Representatives from Charles Darwin University, which receives the
greatest weighting for the regional loading, also indicated that the funding
arrangements were deficient:
Many of my colleagues suggested that Charles Darwin had done extremely
well in getting a regional loading of 30 per cent...
Interestingly, when it was first launched, the new funding
model delivered us $10,000 less as an institution with a 30 per cent regional
loading than we had under the old...model. To tell you, frankly, we were a little
disappointed with that outcome because, having gone through a fairly extensive
strategic conversation with the Commonwealth where funding was an important
element, essentially the regional loading arrangements initially did not help us.
...I understand that the Commonwealth Grants Commission has a
factor of 54 per cent for secondary schools in the Northern Territory, which
seems somewhat meaner to have a model based around 30 per cent for tertiary
In its response to the Bradley Review, the Australian Government stated
it will 'examine the cost of providing quality teaching and research in
regional Australia and a new, more logical basis for funding will be
Professor Graham Baker, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Scholarship), University
of Southern Queensland, outlined for the committee his proposal for changing
the model for regional loading:
There may be alternative ways to restructure that loading so
it stays with the universities, but follows a different principle. The current
principle post Bradley has been to provide more support to students, to
encourage more students to go to university, thereby giving university more
funding. One might do the same thing with regional loading to encourage people
out of cities into regional universities - not to let the bleed and the drain
go the opposite way, but to encourage that migration, if I can put it that way,
in a training sense.
...I think the principle of supporting students to attend
university and structuring that so that, for us, it supports only those who
choose to go to regional universities, because that is a bigger cost constraint
or impost on them, would be a very good thing...I repeat: I would actually be in
favour of an analysis that said, 'Let’s openly take the regional loading and
turn it into something that only would apply to students leaving metropolitan
areas in order to enhance that capacity out in regional areas.'
The committee also notes the recommendation in the submission of Rural
Health in the Northern Outback to the effect that regional universities that
provide local access to comprehensive tertiary education should be better
supported through Commonwealth funding:
Universities such as James Cook University provide access to
tertiary education for students from remote locations in northern Australia.
Universities such as these hold the key to sustaining and building rural and
remote communities through the training of health, medical, teaching and other
professionals. The good work of these universities should be recognised and
supported through special funding grants designed specifically to support rural
and remote student intake. Regional universities should also gain access to
special research funding in order to retain and attract staff.
The current model of regional loading is clearly inappropriate and does
not assist universities with adequate funding to subsidise the provision of
courses in regional areas. There is clearly a significant level of
dissatisfaction amongst providers at the operation of the current system.
The committee acknowledges the Government's intention to review the
current system of regional loading. The committee would expect that the
Government will take into account the concerns raised by tertiary providers in
this inquiry in its review.
Attracting Students to Regional Institutions
The committee discussed with witnesses the ways in which rural and
regional institutions might attract students to study there. Predominantly
these discussions centred on the ways in which regional institutions might
diversify and expand their course offerings and curriculum. Of particular
interest to the committee was the feasibility of collaborations between
universities and between universities and TAFEs. The potential role of improved
communications technology and the rollout of the National Broadband Network were
Collaboration between TAFEs and universities
The committee spent considerable time during the inquiry discussing with
witnesses the potential for collaborations between TAFEs and universities as a
means of expanding course offerings and improving the accessibility of
education opportunities for students.
The committee notes the current policy reforms by the Australian
Government aimed at restructuring and realigning the higher education and
vocational education and training (VET) sectors:
...we need an education system that is less fragmented and
easier for students to navigate. It should be straight forward for students to
enter post-school education and move between vocational and higher education as
appropriate to enhance their skills and qualifications.
Australia's VET and higher education systems have their own
Tertiary education in Australia should be a continuum of
delivery, with better connections between sectors in both directions while
avoiding one sector subsuming the other.
To make this happen, the Government will establish the
Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment (MCTEE), with
responsibility for higher education, vocational education and training,
international education, adult and community education, the Australian
Qualifications Framework, employment and broader youth policy.
The committee also notes the initiatives the Australian Government has
put in place, particularly:
- The commissioning of the Australian Qualifications Framework
Council to develop strategies to improve articulation and connectivity between
the higher education and VET sectors.
- Funding for structural adjustment to support projects that will
deliver greater sustainability, diversity and collaboration between
institutions, with the potential to facilitate stronger connections between the
higher education and VET sectors (see discussion above under the heading 'Structural
In its submission to the committee, TAFE Directors Australia explained
why TAFEs are well placed to provide delivery of courses in collaboration with
In terms of its vast network of campuses and outreach centres
across Australia, TAFE has a far greater footprint in remote and regional
communities than universities. TAFE has the physical presence, the community
profile and the infrastructure, making its participation critical to the
achievement of government objectives in these areas.
Mr Chris Jones of Great Southern TAFE gave evidence to the committee
that collaboration with universities was one of the priorities for his
Our next priority, and we have been doing some work on this,
to develop agreements with universities to have diploma or advanced diplomas
meet the requirements for the first year of the degree of that university - in
that discipline, of course - and then have the second and third year of the degree
delivered at Great Southern TAFE either under the auspices of or by the
Mr Jones also told the committee of the nature of the collaborations
that Great Southern TAFE had with Curtin University for some courses:
...we have an agreement with Curtin where they deliver the
second and third years of the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. What happens is
that they accept the Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts that is offered by Great
Southern TAFE as fulfilling the requirements of their first year, so students
who go through the first year of the Bachelor of Fine Arts here can then go on
and enrol in the second-year university program. That is a good model. It is
different from our arrangement with the Curtin School of Nursing. Essentially the
college delivers the Bachelor of Science (Nursing) degree under their auspices,
and they give us a payment per full-time-student equivalent. If you like, we
recruit the staff, provide the facilities and everything. They do the
moderation in Perth and make sure that the degree program's quality is
Our preference by and large is for the articulation model.
These models of course delivery have a number of advantages. For
universities, they enable delivery of courses to a larger number of students,
without requiring the funding for additional small university campuses to be
established. For students, these models offer the opportunity for them to
undertake at least part of their course while remaining at home.
Despite these advantages, there were a number of concerns raised with
the committee regarding delivery of courses in this manner.
Mr Alex Cann, a member of the Albany Youth Advisory Council, was
concerned that only a limited number of courses were offered this way and it
was 'only part of a degree'.
Mr David Crouch, a member of Renmark High School Governing Council,
commented that the population base in many centres would not support the
delivery of a wide range of courses:
The Riverland has a population of about 30,000. It is never
going to be able to support the delivery of the full range of courses locally.
It just does not have the population base to do that. So, to the extent that we
are talking about students who need to leave to access the course that they
want, if it could be delivered locally that would be fantastic.
Mr Jones also explained to the committee that it can be difficult to get
universities interested in collaborations:
We would dearly like to have a school of business from one of
the universities offer the same model of delivery down here for students who
graduate through our diploma or advanced diploma of accounting. It is very
similar to the model that we have with the Curtin School of Nursing and
Midwifery, except that rather than doing the whole degree they just do the final
two years of the degree. There are a couple of ways that they could do that:
they could auspice us to deliver it or in fact they could deliver it themselves
using our facilities. So you have two models there.
But the truth of it is that if you look at the huge number of
students that the schools of business at [Edith Cowan University], Curtin or
Murdoch deal with in Perth and the focus that they have on overseas students,
because overseas students are a significant cohort for them, it is very hard to
get a focus when you are trying to say, 'Look, we want you to do all this work
to set up a program that perhaps will service the needs of 12 to 15 students a
year.' How many hours in the day they have to put towards this is the problem.
I think it is a practical reason. It is not a question of not wanting to work
with us or a dog-eat-dog situation. It is just a question of having all these
priorities and 'Twelve students where?'
The committee also notes the submission of the TAFE Directors of
Australia that it is more 'realistic' for TAFEs to collaborate with schools:
While there are some opportunities for collaboration with
universities, across much of Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland,
it is more realistic to consider the possibilities for combined programs and
shared facilities with secondary schools.
The committee sees great potential in collaborations between
universities and TAFEs as a means for both institutions to expand the range of
courses on offer and improve accessibility to these courses for students in
rural and regional areas.
The committee accepts that collaborations between universities and TAFEs
are not a means by which to provide regional areas with a full suite of
university courses. Nevertheless, the committee's view is that models of course
delivery founded on these collaborations have much to offer regional areas.
Collaborations between universities
The committee spent some time during the inquiry looking at the
possibilities for universities to collaborate with each other to deliver
courses as a means of expanding the range of courses offered at regional
To this end, the committee notes the recommendation of the Bradley
Review that the Australian Government commission a study to examine the
feasibility of a new national university for regional areas and, if the study
indicates that a new national regional university is feasible, the Australian
Government provide appropriate funding for its establishment and operation.
The Government has commissioned this feasibility study and stated that
work on the feasibility study was to be completed by 2009.
The committee notes that one of the universities involved in the feasibility
study states in its submission that the study has concluded early.
The committee was told of a number of instances in which universities
collaborate with each other in order to deliver courses. For example, the
collaboration between the University of New England (UNE) and James Cook
University (JCU) for the delivery of language courses:
We have a blended learning model where we are actually
providing distance education language instruction from UNE in Armidale, New
South Wales, at James Cook University in Cairns because they cannot afford to
keep it. Together we could not afford to keep each of them but if we
rationalised across the two then we could. Those courses are delivered from UNE
to Cairns, but they are done on an economic basis. In other words, JCU pays us
to do that and we share it economically.
Similarly, the University of Ballarat and Deakin University have
established a collaboration for students to be able to enter into courses for
medicine. Professor David Battersby, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Ballarat, explained to the committee how the collaboration worked:
...we collaborate with Deakin University to take students into
a biomedical science program as a mechanism to track them through into medicine
either at Deakin or at any of the other universities in Victoria. Likewise,
they can track into the other high-profile courses that are not available. I
think that is quite a good mechanism for keeping students in regional
communities as long as possible before they then move across.
The committee also briefly discussed with some witnesses the
possibilities for 'rationalising' regional universities. The committee notes
the views of one witness that this would limit the scope of individual
A particular school or department will embrace a particular
theoretical line. A school of business and law will develop a particular
theoretical approach, which is adhered to. If universities are combined then it
will limit the potential for those other two schools of business and law to
develop a different theory and a different approach to innovation and the
expansion of ideas.
The committee was also told that there was also an argument for the
rationalisation of universities in metropolitan areas.
The committee's view is that collaborative projects between universities
can be beneficial to the institutions and for students. Despite only receiving
evidence about a limited number of collaborations, the committee believes that
this model of course delivery has great potential. However, the committee's
understanding from the evidence it received is that there is more enthusiasm
for university-TAFE collaborations as opposed to collaborations between
By way of explanation for this, the committee notes the observation of
Professor Alan Pettigrew, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of UNE,
that current funding arrangements for universities promote competition rather
The committee encourages the Australian Government to consider whether,
as part of compact negotiations with universities, there is a place for including
funding for targets met in relation to collaboration with other universities.
In the committee's view, such provisions may go some way to further developing
collaborative ventures between universities for the delivery of courses.
Blended delivery models
The committee sought feedback as to other initiatives which may assist
regional institutions to expand their course offerings and attract more students.
Initiatives that were suggested included a greater role for 'blended' delivery
model for courses, given the proposed rollout of the National Broadband
Network, lowering the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)- Higher
Education Loans Program (HELP) debt for students who study at regional
universities, and increasing the number of places for rural and regional
students at regional institutions.
A number of witnesses spoke to the committee about the potential for
'blended' delivery model. Ms Barbara Lawrence of Central Queensland University
explained to the committee what was meant by 'blended' delivery model:
It may be that, instead of enrolling a student as an internal
student or an external student - or a flex student, or whatever they are called
- we would try and enrol them as a blended student. That [means] that they have
some face-to-face teaching. They might come in for a week, as in the old
residential school type approach. They might be supplemented by the technology
that is available, whether it is through podcasting or other things. So they
are not an internal student. They do not get marked for being in class, they do
not get marked for that level of participation. But they are not an external
student, in that they have the access. So we have to look at different ways of
In this context, the committee also notes the comments by witnesses as
to the importance of the rollout of the National Broadband Network to the
delivery of courses which depend on information technology, such as interactive
A blended delivery model obviously overcomes some of the disadvantages
that students have in relation to undertaking courses by distance, or external,
delivery methods and enabling students to participate to some extent in what
some witnesses described as the 'university experience'.
The committee also heard some suggestions for attracting students to
regional institutions, beyond simply expanding the course offerings of those
institutions. For example Professor David Battersby, Vice-Chancellor of the
University of Ballarat, explained to the committee that reducing the HECS-HELP
liability for students studying at regional institutions might make regional
institutions more attractive to students:
We asked in our submission: why doesn't the government build
upon what it already does in relation to things like medicine? It is doing it
already in relation to the training of early childhood teachers. If you go and
teach in rural locations, part or all of your HECS liability will be met. Why
wouldn't we want to think about...having a different set of HECS arrangements for
those students who come to regional institutions? That could be an attraction
to get more students out of the city and into regional locations.
As Professor Battersby explained to the committee, attracting students
to study in regional areas increases the likelihood that they will remain in
regional areas once they graduate:
As we know, if they come to regional communities to do their
higher education, just slightly fewer than 50 per cent will stay on. There
could be a different HECS arrangement, building upon what the Commonwealth has
already done in relation to these matters.
The Committee for Ballarat suggested in its submission that more could
be done to proactively encourage students to return to regional areas following
Examples of programs that may meet these conditions include:
...graduates who [return] to a regional location within a small
number of years of graduation would be exempt from further HECS debt
A graduate who returns to a regional location and establishes
an independent business is offered targeted additional business development
support to achieve early financial viability.
The committee recognises the significant role that tertiary education
institutions play in regional areas. This role goes beyond merely providing
education outcomes for the region, and extends to economic and social benefits
for the area.
Therefore, the committee is encouraged by the positive and innovative
proposals being examined and implemented in relation to expanding course
offerings at regional institutions and attracting students to regional areas.
As the committee noted before, expanding course delivery is not going to
provide a solution for every student. However, it may provide the solution for
The committee also believes that expanding the range of courses is not
the only means by which regional institutions can attract students. The
committee's view is that there is value in implementing measures which provide
incentives for students to choose to study at regional institutions.
4.76 The committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate
options for attracting students to regional institutions, and encouraging
graduates to work in rural and regional locations, through programs which
provide for reduced HELP-HECS liability.
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