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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 725

Mr HAASE (9:40 PM) —I rise this evening to address the issue of tertiary education for country students, a very topical situation I may add given that this government should hang its head in shame for the drastic cuts to access for country students that have been enacted since this government came to power. The institution I wish to discuss specifically is the Geraldton University Centre. It is a model of regional tertiary education that is unique in Australia as it is not a university nor is it a campus of a university. It is a not-for-profit, incorporated body aimed at supporting students and delivering university courses in Geraldton on behalf of a range of universities.

The GUC was established in 2002 in response to alarming statistics showing that the Mid West area rated 281 out of 290 regions nationally in terms of university access. Further, a study concluded that while 21 out of every 100 year 12 students in the metropolitan area go on to university, the number for the Geraldton region was eight out of every 100 students. Today 172 people have graduated with university degrees. The majority work as nurses and teachers back in the Mid West region and across regional WA and provide vital services to those communities, services that are difficult to staff because metropolitan people generally with no experience of the bush are loath to move out of those metropolitan areas.

The Geraldton University Centre is in a position to provide an alternative to relocating to Perth or undertaking external studies for students from the Mid West, Gascoyne, Indian Ocean, Pilbara and Kimberley regions. These communities represent some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged in Australia, a group specifically targeted by this federal government to reach a 20 per cent higher education participation rate by 2020. The current funding for the GUC relies on a percentage of each government dollar given to umbrella universities for each student enrolled in those universities, for example in Western Australia, Curtin, the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University.

But there is some additional funding that is helping the GUC. The Hollomby Foundation was named in honour of the late Joe Hollomby, a local charity worker known as the ‘Shortbread Man’. Joe Hollomby raised more than $1 million in Geraldton making and selling shortbread. He was tragically murdered in 2008 at the age of 94. The foundation provides a central structure and means of administering financial support for the benefit of Mid West students and the Geraldton University Centre programs and initiatives.

The GUC aims to raise $1 million over three years for the foundation and so far since July last year they have raised $65,000 already. The GUC is seeking government funding of $2.4 million over five years. That is just $2.4 million over five years while they expand course availability and increase student numbers to a sustainable level. If adequately funded, the GUC can fully develop a creative local solution for tertiary education delivery which may then be applied throughout Australia.

Population modelling predicts that Geraldton’s population will grow to conservatively 51,000 by 2020, and if the city reaches its full potential with the development of the mid-west iron ore province we would expect that population to run to 70,000. The mid-west still ranks in the bottom 10 per cent for university participation in the country. The Geraldton University Centre’s Hollomby Foundation operates a scholarship program for those undertaking study at the GUC, and scholarships range in value from $500 to $5,000. The Hollomby Foundation and the Geraldton University Centre are both working very hard to create a situation in which country kids can have a tertiary education. But they cannot do it without help, and that help—a mere $2.4 million over five years—would be chicken feed for this government’s budget of some $350 billion.