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Regional universities welcome funding boon but need more infrastructure

More money needed for lecture halls and libraries, regional universities say.

Australian regional universities have welcomed Tuesday night’s budget, which set aside $110 million for country campuses and promised to maintain funding for regional infrastructure investment.

Regional universities have long argued while city campuses can take advantage of the urban infrastructure surrounding them, many country universities have to build their own, driving up costs.

In recognition of the extra expenses, the budget allocated $110 million for ‘regional loading’ – an extra payment per student that regional universities get on top of the payment per student that all campuses receive.

“It’s almost doubled the amount of money going toward regional education delivery,” said Peter Lee, the vice chancellor of Southern Cross University, which has campuses in Lismore, Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast.

“We have almost trebled our regional loading from $1.3 million to $3.8 million just with this new money. So we are getting $2.5 million of the $110 million. We are very pleased the arguments we have been putting are getting some traction,” he said.

However, Professor Lee said more money was needed for basic infrastructure if universities were to meet a government targets of having 40% of Australians aged between 25 and 34 holding a bachelor’s degree by 2025.

“And as universities grow, the physical infrastructure we need to meet government expectatons is enormous. For us to take more students, particularly on our growing Gold Coast campus, we need lecture theatres and teaching spaces and coffee shops and libraries and book shops,” he said. “We are crying out for basic infrastructure but it’s hard to get because its doesn’t carry the same cachet as the high-end, high-tech stuff.”

However, the University of Ballarat’s vice chancellor, David Battersby, said last night’s budget also included a promise to maintain the $500 million regional Education Investment Fund, which can be spent on developing new courses and associated infrastructure.

“For example, at the University of Ballarat, we are keen on applying this funding for rejuvenating agricultural education in Victoria,” he said.

Professor Battersby also welcomed a promise to maintain the $400 million Structural Adjustment Fund, which will help universities rejig their organisational structure in the lead up to 2012, when quotas on the number of students attending each campus are lifted.

“In all, we are delighted with this budget. In our case, the regional loading has doubled to just under $3 million. That’s more bikkies for us and makes a significant difference,” he said.

“Any funding that goes into building infrastructure is also driving employment in regional communities,” he said.

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