REGIONAL universities are the lifeblood of their communities and vital for local economies, a Narrabri conference heard yesterday.
University of New England (UNE) vice-chancellor and chief executive officer Jim Barber addressed the second day of the Sustaining Rural
Communities conference, asking the audience what would happen if regional universities were to shut and examining the issue through the potential effect the closure of his university would have on Armidale and the New England.
He said 200 to 300 students would not have attended university were it not for the presence of UNE in the region.
Surveys have reportedly indicated many could not afford the cost of relocation to go to university elsewhere, while other students would have
found it financially very difficult, while
about 200 current students would not
have gained entry to university if not
for UNE’s pathways programs and
Professor Barber suggested Armidale’s population would drop by more than 10,000 if the university was to shut.
He said people living in the city were either students, staff and their families or people employed in other services that existed because of the university’s presence.
Employment would also be affected.
Professor Barber said 13 per cent of people employed in Armidale worked for the university.
It was responsible for one-third of the New England economy, he said.
Nearly 80 per cent of all of the university’s on-campus graduates also secure their first job in the region.
He said one-third of Armidale’s housing would not be used, retail capacity would be cut by half and the city would not enjoy such a vibrant cultural scene without its existence.
According to Professor Barber, the research conducted by the university also contributes directly and indirectly to the region’s rural industries.
UNE specialises in rural research.
He cited its work with a range of research organisations, including the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, the Primary Industries Innovation Centre and the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit.
As a result, Professor Barber said policy levers were needed to promote regional tertiary education.
These included incentives to attend regional universities, performance funding tied to universities’ contributions to their regions, deregulation of the price of education and establishing flagship programs to protect significant courses at each university from being lost to competition.