Meeting regional needs and aspirations

Meeting regional needs and aspirations

18 Mar 2010

Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional) Hal Swerissen discuss the University's ambitions for the regional communities it serves, and recent achievements and developments at its regional campuses.

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For a copy of the Regional Community Report and/or the Regional Strategic Plan 2009 - 2012, please visit the Regional Office webpage.

Transcript

Emma Yager:

Hi I'm Emma Yager and I'm here with the Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University, Professor Paul Johnson and La Trobe's Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional), Professor Hal Swerissen. We're here today to talk about La Trobe's commitment to its regional campuses and the communities in which they operate. So I'd like to start with you Paul if that's ok. In June last year you launched the Regional Strategic Plan 2009 – 2012, why did you create this?

Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson:

For a long time La Trobe University has been working closely with communities in regional Victoria. We've got campuses in Bendigo, Shepparton, Mildura and Wodonga.

We've a long history of working with regional communities and we're very proud of that. But I think that there is much more that we can do with those regional communities together with the University to build I suppose, professional, cultural, social and economic links and to provide input into the development of those communities.

Emma Yager:

What is the plan designed to achieve?

Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson:

Well the Regional Plan is designed to achieve three things in particular. The first is to increase educational opportunity for students in regional Victoria. We currently have almost a quarter of the students at La Trobe in regional campuses but we want to grow that. Indeed there is a real need to grow that because higher education participation in regional Victoria is substantially lower than it is in metropolitan Melbourne. So we've got to do more with local communities and with local schools to increase opportunity.

We know that getting a degree is the best possible thing that a person could do to improve their life chances and their employment chances, and at the University we are the facilitator of that. So number one: educational opportunity.

Number two is to build research and research capacity in regional Victoria. Every community in regional Victoria has a need for more research. Research at the level of industry - very practical research; at the level of the local community, politics, water resources, human resources; almost no end to the amount of research that needs to be undertaken.

As a University we are very well placed to work with partners in the local communities to carry forward that research. And good research will have a direct impact on supporting and sustaining the growth of those communities.

The third thing we want to do is broader engagement with the communities. As I said we already do a lot with those communities and have done over many years. The University can be a real energiser around social, economic, professional and cultural development. It is not that the University is the only player in that space, but it is a very important player.

So by working with businesses, with schools, with other local education providers – particularly TAFEs, with local councils, with voluntary groups, I believe that we can do much more that will be of benefit to the University, more students, more research, but also of real benefit to those communities.

Emma Yager:

Hal, we are nine months into a four year planning period. How do you think we are doing?

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional) Hal Swerissen:

Very well I think. We have a plan that sees us increase our student load by 20% and our research on regional campuses by 50%. We have had a very significant increase in our first preference applications to the University, which has seen percentages of about 50% in Albury-Wodonga, and 40% in Bendigo, and high percentages in Mildura and Shepparton as well. That has translated into a 30% across the board increase in student load in those campuses on our regional operations.

For our research, we've been very successful: we've had about $90 million for a rural health school that will engage in a significant set of research activities in relation to rural health issues in northern Victoria. And we've also had about $90 million for a molecular science institute as well. Those things are important for us because they contribute to innovation in regional Victoria and it is a significant factor in a whole range of activities which are important for local communities.

More generally it is important to see participation rates increasing in rural Victoria. What the University is doing by seeing these increases in students and research is increasing opportunities. Opportunities matter because as people graduate they will stay in rural Victoria and they will participate as workers and community members and so on. As an example, there will be 781 students additional to the students that we have at the moment in the rural health school, and that will lead to about 200 graduates a year in rural Victoria in disciplines like nursing, physiotherapy, dentistry and so on.

Emma Yager:

Paul mentioned that improved community engagement is a key priority of the Plan. What progress has been made towards this?

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional) Hal Swerissen:

When you look at community engagement, one of the key aspects of it is the economic benefit that is produced by the University. We have a very significant economic impact in northern Victoria as a university. Probably in the order of $280 million across the board.

There is about $200 million that we contribute to Bendigo's gross regional product which supports about 2100 jobs in that order. In Albury-Wodonga, we contribute about $50 million to the gross regional product and in the order of 500 jobs. In Mildura and Shepparton that's probably in the order of $15 million, and a significant number of jobs – probably between 100 and 200 jobs that the University contributes.

So that is a very significant direct benefit that we make. We also have a whole range of cultural and social benefits that we produce for these communities. We do public lectures, there are workshops, there are a whole series of things we produce. We have an art gallery in Bendigo; this is very significant for the community. Without the University being there, the community wouldn't have these things.

I think it is probably true as well that we are building partnerships. The University's approach to moving forward is that we need to have strong partnerships, particularly with TAFE and with schools. We are working very hard to put those in place: we're looking at articulation arrangements with TAFEs, we're looking at putting in place a school engagement program.

It is critical to us to have local people from the communities involved. Our Regional Advisory Boards are very important to us in making that happen. We have a diverse mix of community representation through those boards and we're very pleased to see them in place.

Emma Yager:

So Paul, where to from here? What does 2010 hold for La Trobe's regional campuses?

Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson:

Well I think 2010 will offer the University a chance to grow. We know that more students are coming into the campuses. It will allow us to do more in terms of research and the like.

I think the most important thing is that it will allow the University to work with communities and a broad range of stakeholders to further embed higher education and higher educational opportunities in those communities.

When we talk about education, I mean I think we should view it as being a key part of the infrastructure of any community; education is as important as the roads, the telephone wires, as the water pipes. If you don't have education and educational opportunities, no community will grow and prosper.

And of course there is a lot of focus at the moment on primary and secondary education, and that needs to be there, and indeed we want to work particularly with secondary schools much more intensively to ensure that more students stay on, continue, complete their Year 12 education and then go on to further study.

But the key thing that we can bring to communities and develop with communities is higher educational opportunities, because if those don't exist then the likelihood is that some of the most highly achieving students and some of the people with the highest aspirations will go elsewhere to study. And we know that if students leave regional communities to study in the metropolis, the chances of them going back into that regional labour market are relatively low.

Whereas, and we have our own data on this, the students who come from regional areas, who study in our regional campuses; of those 70% will work in the local labour market. So that provides a huge input of skills and it is skills in the end, human capital and skills that provide the really dynamic force in any economy. And if you have a dynamic injection of skills, the economy will prosper and if the economy prospers, then the society will develop and there will be all the cultural attributes that a dynamic community will have.

So the University is central to those communities but those communities are also fundamental to the University. It is a reciprocal relationship, and it is a relationship that we want to grow. I think all of us in the communities and the University want to grow that.

So what does 2010 herald: growth for the University, deeper engagement with the communities, a commitment not just to, as it were, looking at the next 12 months but trying to ensure that we can work together over a longer planning period, over a five year planning period, to build that relationship, to build growth and to build success for regional Victoria.

Emma Yager:

Well thank you Paul and thank you Hal. The new Regional Community Report outlines a selection of the University's engagement activities with local communities and you can pick up a copy of this report on your campus or follow the link on this page to get the electronic version. Thank you for watching.

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