We stand ready to help train our future workforce, whether they are young people fresh from school or those displaced from work by the pandemic who need to find a new career. Our researchers will work with industry to help find solutions to pressing business or technical problems; and we will stimulate innovation and economic growth through our accelerator and other innovation programs, and by making our deep expertise and facilities available to those who need it. Support in five key areas will help us to play our role in helping Victoria get back on track.
First, we need the Federal Government to fund additional student places to cater for increased demand. Like most universities, we are experiencing a massive growth in demand for our courses from domestic students – because school leavers are abandoning plans for a gap year, or because people out of work know that a degree is the best way to re-enter the workforce. Education Minister Dan Tehan plans to increase student places from next year, but nowhere fast enough to keep pace with likely demand.
Second, we need investment in major infrastructure projects. La Trobe has signed up to the North and West Melbourne City Deal and the Albury-Wodonga City Deal, collaborative projects that are identifying priorities for investment the State’s fastest growing regions in the North and West of Melbourne. We also need funding soon for the Suburban Rail Loop, which will unlock a network of education providers and key businesses along Melbourne’s spine. All of these will support our University City of the Future at Bundoora, which is expected to create more than 20,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
Third, as highlighted by former Victorian Premier and La Trobe University Chancellor John Brumby last week, we need to support people who have bright ideas. This will help to keep creative projects in Victoria and boost the State’s exports. A billion-dollar Breakthrough Fund will foster innovation – and universities can get on board by helping to create new industries for which new skills will be needed, and by helping our industry partners to solve problems and establish new markets for their products.
Fourth, we need support for closer integration between university and TAFE in regional areas. This will give people in the regions access to choices and pathways that are comparable to what’s available in Melbourne. As Victoria’s only statewide university, we see the gaps in educational attainment between the city and the regions, and we want to work more closely with TAFE to close the gap and support the development of a regional workforce for the future.
Finally, we could really amplify our contribution to the economic recovery if there were more support – in the form of infrastructure, people and improved public transport links – for the innovation ecosystems around our universities. La Trobe is already supporting business innovation through an Accelerator Program and other initiatives. This activity has enormous potential and our commitment to develop our Bundoora campus into a University City with a major Research and Innovation precinct will generate $3.5 billion in gross regional product over the next decade.
Big idea: We need to build innovation ecosystems around each of our university campuses to connect those who create ideas with those who can take them to market.
Originally published in The Herald Sun, titled: Kickstart Victoria: Call for free public transport for students to help revive university sector