Regional universities ‘undervalued’

Staff reporters

Regional universities make a massive contribution to their surrounding communities, a new report has found, but the benefits don’t end there.

They become ‘thought leaders’, according to Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee, creating a bond with their surrounding communities and using their skills and expertise to help solve local problems.

The Regional Universities Network (RUN) has released a regional impact study, which demonstrates how the RUN universities are making significant and diverse contributions.

An earlier economic impact study showed the six RUN universities contribute a total of $3 billion to their local communities.

SCU itself contributes $506.8 million to the Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Tweed Heads economies and provides 2365 full-time equivalent jobs.

But Professor Lee said the new report shows, ‘our contribution to the region goes far beyond our economic contribution.’

‘We are working alongside our councils, community organisations and businesses to respond to skills shortages and to retain and attract professional workers in our cities and towns. We are also delivering new solutions for regional problems in key areas such as health and the environment.’

But he said that while SCU takes its role as both a ‘thought leader’ and member of the community seriously, the report highlighted ‘the disconnect between this critical role and the current one-size-fits-all commonwealth policy and funding framework for universities’.

‘At a time when funding for universities is under threat, we need a new policy framework that acknowledges the vital role universities play within our regions and supports them to continue to drive sustainable development.’

It is a viewpoint that is shared by the Greens candidate for Page, Desley Banks, who deplores the federal government’s university cuts to fund the Gonski education reforms.

‘I am worried about the federal government’s funding cuts to our local Southern Cross University,’ she said in a media release this week.

‘I have spoken to a lot of local residents who are fed up with the old parties saying one thing in the electorate and doing the opposite in Canberra,’ she added.

‘The most recent federal government cuts to the university, social security benefits and Medicare are hurting the north coast economy and threatening north coast jobs.’

‘The Greens are bringing legislation in to roll back tax rorts and diesel rebates for the big mining companies. The budget is then back in balance by these companies paying their fair share of tax, just like I pay my fair share of tax.’

Ms Banks added that if the Greens tax policy was adopted the recent education cuts could affordably be reversed.

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