Two leading Australian regional universities are joining forces to undertake a feasibility study into establishing a new Commonwealth University in an historic move that would revolutionise the provision of tertiary education in regional Australia.

Southern Cross University and Charles Sturt University will explore joining forces, with initially a third interstate university, to create a new regionally-based national institution.

The two universities have been invited by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, to submit a funding application to conduct the feasibility study for the new national institution which is expected to be conducted in the first half of next year.

In a joint statement, Vice-Chancellors Professor Ian Goulter, of Charles Sturt University, and Professor Paul Clark (pictured), of Southern Cross University, said they would investigate combining strengths to ensure the sustainable provision of quality higher education and research of particular relevance to regional communities in Australia.

“The proposal would deliver future educational opportunity for – and provision of professionals to – regional communities,” Professors Goulter and Clark said.

“The new institution’s mission would be to expand high-quality University educational opportunity in regional Australia, and nationally, through its dispersed campuses, using digital technology and by conducting research of particular relevance to regional Australia.

“It would provide access to the combined discipline strengths of each institution and an enhanced comprehensive course profile.

“Importantly, the integration of our institutions, while maintaining our existing regional campuses, would enhance opportunities across a number of disciplines for all regional students, including in national priority areas such as health.

“It would also contribute to a sustainable and professional labour force, networked knowledge communities, TAFE pathways and international engagement.

“As two leading innovators in distance education delivery, the new national institution would explore the full potential and accelerate the application of digital technology to deliver a high-quality and flexible educational experience within Australia and internationally and would lead to significant new investment in digital and flexible learning.

“Strong research capabilities would be brought to the venture and by consolidating and strategically co-ordinating complementary research strengths across the new national University, cross-institutional capacity and excellence would be delivered.

“Having the new university established under Commonwealth law would enable it to invite other interstate regional institutions with complementary capabilities to integrate and build on their strengths to ensure continuing access to high-quality education for rural and regional students around Australia.

“Commonwealth Government support is essential to provide the national legislative framework for the new institution and to negotiate with State governments.”

It is anticipated the upcoming release of the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education will highlight the need for innovation in the higher education sector, particularly in regional Australia and this proposal would deliver an education revolution in the regions.

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