Universities across Australia are not funded to grow and an inability to increase the number of students in tertiary education is concerning La Trobe University’s Regional Pro Vice Chancellor Richard Speed.
“The proportion of Year 12 students who continue to university in Bendigo is lower compared to metropolitan Melbourne,” Mr Speed said.
Only 25.5 per cent of people have a university degree in Bendigo compared to nearly 61 per cent of people in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, according to federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters.
“The government’s cap prevents regional universities from La Trobe from growing – blocking access to uni for prospective students across central Victoria,” Ms Chesters said.
The Minister for Education Dan Tehan has fired back, saying the government will introduce performance-based funding for universities to ensure they focus on providing quality teaching.
“From 2020, universities will be able to access additional funding for bachelor-level places in line with population growth if they meet specified performance requirements,” Mr Tehan said.
Missing out on students has a financial impact, with 100 students graduating with a degree generating $1 million in economic activity for the region, according to Mr Speed.
“If we miss out on extra students, we miss out on that economic activity and skills in the regional economy,” he said.
Former Victorian premier Denis Napthine is chair of the Regional Education expert advisory group that has been tasked with developing a National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy.
Mr Speed and colleagues at La Trobe University have consulted with the group and suggested regional campuses be exempt from the cap on university places.
“In the regions, there are students who could be coming to university, who don’t,” Mr Speed said.
“There are obvious financial barriers such as relocation and travel,” he said.
The government is investing $134.8 million over four years in the Regional Education Package to provide more choice and access to regional students pursuing higher education.
This boosts the government’s commitment to more than $400 million in the next five years, according to the Minister.
“$34.1 million has also been set aside for the expansion of the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program that will support nearly 2000 students,” Mr Tehan said.
Ms Chesters believes 1000 more students would be getting the opportunity to be educated at La Trobe University Bendigo under a federal Labor government.
“When Labor was last in office, we lifted the caps on the number of uni places, opening the door for hundreds of students around the country to access higher education,” Ms Chesters said.