BORDER universities’ concerns about federal higher education reforms will be taken directly to Canberra as the result of a forum in Wodonga yesterday.
Expert speakers were buoyed by the presence of senior policymakers at the Albury-Wodonga Forum on Regional and Rural Higher Education.
They said the event, organised by La Trobe and Charles Sturt universities and Indi MP Cathy McGowan, had been a success.
“It highlighted that there are regional positives, but also challenges, that are very similar right across Australia,” Western Australia’s Professor Sue Trinidad, one of three key speakers, said.
Professor Trinidad is the director of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University’s John Curtin Institute of Public Policy.
Other speakers were Regional Universities Network executive director Caroline Perkins and Albury Wodonga Health chief executive Susan O’Neill.
The nation’s eight Senate crossbenchers were invited to the forum. Only the Greens’ Lee Rhiannon attended, along with lower house independents Ms McGowan and Andrew Wilkie.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon recently described the forum as “an important initiative” that should be noticed, especially given the government had not consulted those affected by its policies.
Professor Trinidad said the forum at La Trobe, was “excellent” and she had no doubt it had been noticed.
“It was good to see so many policymakers there today, right from (federal Education) Minister (Christopher) Pyne’s office to the Greens, Labor, the National Party — they were all there,” she said.
“The message has been heard.”
“What was important is that the message is being taken back to Canberra next week.
“That’s so the regions have to be considered in whatever decision is made, because it can’t just be the one answer for everyone.”
Mr Pyne is still trying to get the government’s higher education changes passed by the Senate.
Ms McGowan was concerned the deregulation of university education would affect the ability of regional and rural universities to compete.
Dr Perkins said the government needed to “urgently resolve” the situation to give certainty to universities and students.
“I talked about the importance of research to regional universities and the fact the government is in the process of reviewing the various aspects of research funding,” she said.
She said it was important to keep stressing the importance of that research as a fundamental part of regional universities and their communities.
Professor Trinidad said a lot of innovation had happened in regional areas, especially in research.
“We don’t always get that great message out,” she said.
“That was one of the things I was here for — to talk about some of the positive things that are happening in our universities right across Australia.”
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