Southern Cross University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Rickard, has welcomed the Federal Government's announcement of 2670 new student places in Australian Universities. However, he has added his voice to the call for an enhanced bipartisan commitment to increasing Australia's capacity for knowledge creation.
2000 of the new places announced last week by the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr David Kemp, will be earmarked each year in the maths, science and information technology areas for Universities that have 'demonstrated their past excellence and proposed innovative plans for the future'.
In this category, Southern Cross will receive an additional 35 places for the National Marine Science Centre at Coffs Harbour, in conjunction with the University of New England.
A further 20 new places each year will be allocated to SCU for the new Tweed Campus, now well into the construction phase and due to open early in 2002.
"Naturally we are pleased that Southern Cross is in the ranks of recipient Universities, which befits the important regional role we are fulfilling," Professor Rickard said. "However, as Professor Ian Chubb, the President of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, said recently, Australia needs to invest considerably more in higher education if we are to be confident about our future prosperity".
Professor Rickard added that SCU, like the University sector at large, had developed a range of private sector partnerships that greatly boost its research strengths, and, in the process, have created many new employment opportunities at the University.
"We are well aware of the need to pursue further cooperative agreements, both regionally and further afield. In fact, hardly a week passes when we do not formalise an agreement or open constructive negotiations with potential partners," he said. "For example, this week we signed a memorandum with Tokyo's highly regarded Aoyama Gakuin University to implement a significant program of student exchange, notably in the teacher education field.
"But the fact remains that both the Government and Opposition in Australia must play an appropriate role in the funding equation, and at present this is not happening, especially in comparison to countries, some in our region, that we surpassed with higher education funding until recent times."
He stressed that the situation was especially pressing in regional Australia, which needed well-educated people in order to fill skilled jobs and create new enterprises and consequent employment opportunities.
"The House of Representatives' inquiry into regional Australia ('Time Running Out - Shaping Regional Australia's Future') highlighted the urgent need to redress the imbalances between regional and metropolitan areas," the Vice-Chancellor said. "The Government's latest increase in regional student places is a step in the right direction, but the journey is by no means over."