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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1782

Mr OAKESHOTT (7:30 PM) —I rise to report that earlier this week some key education and community development stakeholders within the mid-North Coast region and I met with the office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the education minister to inform them that one of the councils in our region, via a new group called the Port Macquarie Education and Skills Forum, which is a meeting place for all education providers on the mid-North Coast, has adopted the government’s targets to increase the number of 25- to 35-year-olds on the New South Wales mid-North Coast having a bachelor’s degree from 11 per cent, which is incredibly low, to 40 per cent by 2025. Whilst the government’s target is ambitious, our target as a region is even more ambitious, but I think it is a bold and welcome move by our region to embrace that target.

There are currently 1,604 residents in this age bracket in the Mid North Coast region with a bachelor’s degree or higher. These figures are considerably lower than state and national averages and lower than regions in northern New South Wales that do have a substantial university campus. The population in this age bracket in the mid-North Coast region is 14,270; so, assuming a zero growth rate in that age group, the region would need to attain a total of 5,708 graduates in order to achieve the federal government’s target by 2025. This requires the provision of 7,135 university places given the national attrition rate of 20 per cent. This equates to approximately 500 enrolments every year between now and 2025, and that is assuming our population does not increase—we are one of the growth areas of Australia, let alone New South Wales.

It was these statistics that were the basis of our meeting. The Port Macquarie-Hastings Council general manager, the economic development manager and the business analyst, along with the institute director of the North Coast Institute of TAFE, attended the meeting, presenting the minister with the opportunity for the government to enter into a formal process with the council in an effort to increase the access to higher education in all discipline areas that are linked to the regional demands on the mid-North Coast. From a regional perspective, we are serious about this. We are serious about increasing the aspiration for education in our region and we think we are starting to see some results on that front. We acknowledge the work that has been done through the Bradley review and the changes to university funding that we are seeing from the government. That is starting to get universities talking to our region, but to keep it coordinated and sustainable we need to form that relationship with government. I hope they take up the offer to formalise that process.

For everyone in this place who does not know the mid-North Coast well, the gap we are talking about is essentially half of Tasmania. It is a population the equivalent of half of Tasmania’s with a geography the equivalent of the entire eastern third of Tasmania. There would be political blood on the floor if there were not a university presence of significance on the east coast of Tasmania, but that is what we are talking about for my region. We are surrounded by campuses at Newcastle, Armidale and Coffs Harbour, but for local students to seriously access tertiary education and for that aspiration for education to genuinely develop—for these bold targets of government, which are being accepted by regions such as ours, to be met—we have to go hard on this topic pretty soon. That is where I hope formalising an agreement with our region, which is up for the challenge, is one that the government accepts. A little bit of resourcing goes with that, but I think from that we will both bear great results for the future of this country.