uniSouthern Cross University and Charles Sturt University have welcomed the announcement of funding for a feasibility study into the creation of a new national university based in regional Australia.

The $2 million funding for the study was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, in Sydney today.

The announcement forms part of the Federal Government’s response to the Bradley Review of Higher Education, which includes a commitment to increasing the national participation rate in higher education to 40 per cent of all 25 to 34-year-olds by 2025.

The feasibility study will include a detailed analysis of the proposal to form a new national university, with Charles Sturt University and Southern Cross University as the foundation partners and the possible inclusion of a third interstate university.

In a joint statement, Vice-Chancellors Professor Paul Clark, of Southern Cross University, and Professor Ian Goulter, of Charles Sturt University, said the aim of a new national university would be to ensure sustainable, high-quality education for and in regional Australia.

“We welcome the Federal Government’s response to the Bradley Review of Higher Education and the particular emphasis that has been placed on ensuring opportunity for all Australians,” the Vice-Chancellors said.

“Charles Sturt University and Southern Cross University play an integral role in increasing participation in regional Australia and are leaders in the development of distance and digital delivery.

“This funding will allow a comprehensive analysis of the role of regional universities and the future of distance education and look at the opportunities for delivering a richer and broader range of options to people in regional Australia and nationally who are seeking a university education.”

The feasibility study, to be undertaken by external consultants, will be completed in three stages, with a high level of consultation with students, staff, regional communities and industry and business stakeholders built into each stage.

The first part of the study will be a needs analysis, examining the role of regional universities in meeting local and national labour force needs; assessing the future demand for distance education to meet national higher education participation goals; and examining gaps in the current arrangement and resourcing of institutions in meeting these needs.

A report on the findings of this stage of the study will be published for comment and will determine the further progress of the study.

The second ‘modelling’ stage will examine options for meeting future needs – in particular the formation of a new national university.

It will involve a high-level assessment of current institutional capacity and whether different configurations of institutions, including integration of a third interstate university, would improve delivery, particularly for regional communities. This stage will also examine resource requirements.

If the modelling suggests that there is a financially viable model for better meeting the needs of regional communities and addressing national labour force needs through the establishment of a new national university, or by some other means, a detailed analysis will be undertaken to prepare recommendations for achieving this goal.

It is expected the full study will be completed by the end of 2009.

PICTURE: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education Julia Gillard with Professor Ian Goulter, Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University (left), and Professor Paul Clark, Vice-Chancellor of Southern Cross University following the announcement in Sydney today.