March 22, 2016: Adjournment debate – Deakin University Warrnambool Campus

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Training and Skills, and the action I seek is for the minister to visit my electorate and meet the community group formed at a public meeting last Friday to explain how there will be ongoing university degree courses delivered in Warrnambool.

Our rural kids deserve the same educational opportunities as young Victorians living in Melbourne. Without a university in south-west Victoria our students might be denied higher education because of costs, dislocation or commitments to family or jobs. This message was made clear last week when south-west Victoria came out in force, spilling out of Warrnambool’s civic centre to protest the decision by Deakin University to pull out of the campus at Warrnambool. Labor cannot stand by after it said it would be a government opening campuses. All we are seeing is it walking away from the Warrnambool and district community.

The importance of the university to south-west Victoria is evident. At the moment country kids in Victoria are 30 per cent less likely to enrol in university. For many in south-west Victoria, the university in Warrnambool gave them the only chance they would ever have had of getting a university qualification and the start in life that that offers.

Year 12 attainment in the South-West Coast region is a major issue, which our community is tackling with enormous commitment. Local organisations are making great strides in seeking solutions to improve educational outcomes in our region. The loss of a local university could further erode aspirations for our young people to aim for educational achievement. I look forward to the funding support for Beyond the Bell, which the Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, talked about on Friday night.

Students, graduates, major employers and community leaders have all spoken out to express their commitment to the future of a quality university education at Warrnambool. Many leading businesses employ Warrnambool Deakin graduates, with one major accounting firm comprising 80 per cent of Warrnambool graduates.

Warrnambool Base Hospital is a major employer of Warrnambool Deakin graduates. In just five years the placement of medical interns has gone from 4 to 45 and is now oversubscribed. For the past three years the dux of Deakin’s medical course has come from the Warrnambool program.

I see great opportunities for a university in Warrnambool. Renewable energy, agriculture, timber and dairy need specialist graduate courses to suit local industries and attract students from beyond. The minister must meet with Deakin and Federation universities, the federal government and South-West Coast education and community leaders to make sure that we keep a university in Warrnambool.