General News

2 March, 2023

Tablelands uni centre a step closer

A “GAME-CHANGER” in how students living in the region can undertake their tertiary studies reached another milestone last week when Tablelands Regional Council agreed to contribute $45,000 over the next three years for a regional University Centre to be established in Atherton.

Tablelands uni centre a step closer - feature photo

The Tablelands University Centre (TUC) will become one of 34 throughout Australia when it opens in April, enabling locals to get support during tertiary studies, regardless of the institution, without having to leave their communities.

In November last year, Vocational Partnerships Group was awarded funding by the Federal Government to establish the centre which will now remove barriers faced by students living in the region.

Describing the funding as a “modest” contribution, Cr David Clifton said it was “a first step in the growth of something really special” for the Tablelands.

“Students doing their degrees through Central Queensland University (CQU) or James Cook University (JCU) have largely had to do their work by correspondence,” he said.

He said figures from the 2020 census were alarming, with the Tablelands lagging badly behind national figures when it came to the percentage of the population attending university.

“University attendance in Australia is five per cent of the population; in Queensland, it’s four per cent of the population; in regional Queensland, it’s three per cent; and in the Tablelands Regional Council area, it’s one per cent of the population,” he said.

“We are, by any standard, compared to the rest of Australia, massively underdone in terms of the ability of our residents to successfully attend university and maintain a normal family life and existence without leaving home.

“You can imagine how many sons and daughters of the men and women on the land have been faced with the terrible decision of ‘do I go away to university or do I stay at home and work with mum and dad?’”

Cr Clifton said VPG would now set about establishing the new study centre at its Comet Avenue premises.

“It will create, if you like, a mini campus - one of the great benefits of that, for those of us who have been to university, is that it gives students the ability to interchange with like-minded people,” he said.

A report to council lauded the benefits of the centre and advised that VPG had forecast that 100 students would likely use the centre in its first year of operation.

“Students who study locally are more likely to engage in the local workforce, providing businesses with new employment opportunities,” it stated.

“The TUC will provide opportunities for part-nership with local business and industry to meet skills and training needs.

“Council has a key role to support the establishment and ongoing operation of the TUC given the significant benefits it provides to the community, business, and industry.

“The TUC will also be a game changer in keeping youth in our community.”

Cr Dave Bilney said the new centre would allow the region “to grow our own” and stop “educational leakage”, with people currently having to leave the area to attend university.

“It might also generate interest in study per se, particularly along a different demographic such as young mothers who can learn, gets skills and re-enter the workforce at a time that suits them,” he said.

Mayor Rod Marti congratulated VPG chief executive officer Maryanne Tranter in getting the initial submission approved under the Australian Government’s Regional Universities Centres program.

“It was a national program and not many were successful,” he said.

The funding from council will be used to provide support to students attending the centre which could include rent, utility costs, establishment costs as well as sponsorship.

The centre will provide physical, campus-like spaces, study spaces with high-speed internet access and video conferencing, administrative guidance, academic support services, and pastoral care.

Any student studying university or Vocational Education and Training courses online at any Australian institution will be able to use the centre.

As part of its funding support, council provide $10,000 in 2022-23 to become a foundation sponsor of the TUC which will enable the successful set-up of the facility and encourage other financial partners to provide ongoing support to ensure its long-term viability.

Council has also earmarked $15,000 in fund-ing for 2023-24, and $20,000 in 2024-25.

The funding will be subject to the TUC meeting key performance indicators which include increased participation, retention and completion of study by students, and undertaking activities to promote higher education access and participation generally in the region, such as outreach and aspiration-building activities in schools and the wider community to promote participation in post-compulsory education.


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