THE FUTURE of a university campus in Tamworth now rests squarely on the shoulders of the federal government after $26.7 million was committed in the NSW Budget.
The University of New England (UNE) has welcomed the Restart NSW funds, but that money won't be released until the federal government squares up with the last $10 million.
Tamworth University Reference Group chair Mitch Hanlon said the group has been told clearly that is the case.
"The state government has committed to the funding but it will not be released, it's basically been moved from one allocation to another so it cannot be touched," he said.
"We have been told point blank $26 million will not be released until the federal government issues its funding.
"It's great from the state government but we won't see a red cent until the federal government commits $10 million."
The release of the funds will support the expansion of UNE's presence in Tamworth, which will offer courses in partnership with industry in 2021.
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce said the state government was playing a "stupid little game" by making its money contingent on a Commonwealth contribution.
"It's been back and forth, they were going to do it and this is the third bite so let's all stick to what's been said," he said.
"I am not responsible for the money, I will do my very best to get it but I'm not the minister for education and this is all a bit of a game of 'we'll do this if you do that', but we have to pay for the Commonwealth-funded positions at the end of this.
"It's almost like they have to provide a mechanism to give themselves an out if the federal government doesn't provide $10 million, I just want it built and if we play this stupid little game then we play it but I'm doing my best to get the money."
The Leader understands a meeting is organised for December with Mr Joyce; federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan; NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee; NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell; and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson in Canberra.
Mr Anderson said he wouldn't comment on Mr Joyce's assertions but said he had fought hard to keep the money on the table.
"This is the thing, the state government generally doesn't fund universities; we build hospitals, schools, ambulance stations, so this is a first as an election commitment," he said.
"We don't generally do that which is why it has been such a battle to keep that money there when we've needed every dollar everywhere else.
"A significant number of proposals argue for a three-way split where everyone has a role to play, it's not uncommon practice to have everyone come to the table and contribute."
The state investment means the university can continue to seek the next lot of funds from the federal government to bring the vision to life, UNE vice-chancellor Brigid Heywood said.
"UNE Tamworth will provide education that is accessible and inclusive, helping Tamworth to train and retain local talent and increase education outcomes for the region," she said.
"Tamworth is the largest city in NSW that is not serviced by a university campus.
"Expansion of our presence in Tamworth is a necessity to boost the levels of higher education attainment in the region and stimulate economic growth."