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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Page: 2674

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (22:11): We must support our regional universities. Today I would like to draw the attention of members in this House to Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus and the importance of that campus to the local government area and the North Coast region. The Coffs Harbour SCU campus is important from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, it is part of the Coffs Harbour campus, which comprises a TAFE and a senior high school; secondly, the SCU campus provides educational opportunities for students in the local area, across Australia and around the world; thirdly, the campus has developed strong ties with the local community; and, fourthly, it is an important contributor to our local and regional economies.

The SCU Coffs Harbour campus offers a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including early childhood, primary and secondary education, nursing, psychology, business and information technology, tourism, arts, social science and creative writing. The National Marine Science Centre is another key operation of the university in Coffs Harbour. It began operation as a joint facility with the University of New England in 2002 before SCU took over full operation of the site in 2010. SCU Coffs Harbour currently has 1,600 students. Delivering educational opportunities is all about providing access to the courses that students are seeking. The ongoing growth of the Coffs Harbour campus demonstrates they are successfully doing that. The campus is different from many other education campuses in that it is quite unique, having the combination of a TAFE and a senior high school. It is known as the Coffs Harbour Education Campus, or CHEC. It is a unique partnership that works very well.

In Coffs Harbour we can effectively have students completing their secondary studies at Coffs Harbour Senior College, completing a diploma at TAFE and then articulating on to a university degree. This has a lot of attraction to many students who perhaps would not have sought a university course without the pathway from senior high through to TAFE and then education at a university. The Coffs Harbour campus has recently sought to build on its competitive advantage through two new initiatives which have been developed with the aim of increasing opportunities for students in the Mid North Coast region. The SCU college has been established to provide pathways to university for those who might never have previously thought they could achieve a university qualification.

Working closely with the institute of TAFE, SCU offers a number of associate degrees and is developing learning centres in other regional locations, including Grafton. Associate degrees are being offered in allied health, business and arts, with science planned for 2014. Another new initiative, aimed at the region's brightest high school students, is the head start program. Designed for high-achieving students in years 11 and 12, it gives them the opportunity to do a unit of university study while still at school. Introduced in 2012, this has become a highly popular program, providing direct entry into SCU.

Southern Cross University is also a research-intensive university. At the Coffs Harbour campus, researchers are involved in a range of projects to further enhance the economic and social development of the region. For example, SCU has established the Regional Initiative for Social Innovation and Research, looking at social media as a mechanism for reducing the effects of social isolation and comparing the experience of asbestos sufferers in regional areas with those in metropolitan areas. It is also working with CSIRO on a project investigating how the use of the internet in social housing can help residents form online communities and re-engage with the broader community, education and employment.

Researchers are also working with the Coffs Harbour City Council on economic development strategies, which are expected to have flow-on benefits for all regional areas. And speaking of economic development, members should not underestimate the importance of SCU to the local economy. In fact, a report released this week by the Regional Universities Network revealed that the Coffs Harbour SCU campus contributes $36.1 million to Coffs Harbour's gross regional product, $23 million in household income and just over 300 full-time jobs. With this money having a multiplying effect through the community, it goes to show the importance of this university to our local region.

The SCU campus has resulted in increased university attendance and an increase in the number of people with university qualifications. The proportion of university qualified people increased from 13.1 per cent to 15.6 per cent in the local government area between 2006 and 2011. The university campus is a great asset to our local community. Our regional universities need to be supported to allow students the opportunity to gain a university education in the local area and save them the requirement of having to travel far at great expense. (Time expired)