By Antonia Maiolo
The Gippsland campus of MonashUniversity and the University of Ballarat plan to form one expanded regional university. The proposed merger has in-principle support from the Victorian Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall.
The new arrangement would see Monash “teach out” existing courses, with Ballarat eventually taking over the Monash Churchill campus. But Monash said the Gippsland Medical School would remain part of Monash, and it would maintain an active research presence in Gippsland.
MonashUniversityvice-chancellor Professor Ed Byrne said that the expanded university could develop into “one ofAustralia’s best regional higher education providers”.
He said Monash University had been looking at ways to enable the Gippsland campus to better meet the needs of its communities, including improving university participation rates regionally.
The universities said the proposal would also support the economic development of the Gippsland and Ballarat/Wimmera regions.
“It’s about providing enhanced opportunities for folk to access university courses,” saidUniversityofBallaratvice-chancellor Professor David Battersby, who is also the chair of the Regional Universities Network (RUN).
“And at the end of the day, for those who live and work in regional communities, it’s about the enhancement of the broader community.”
The new arrangement would also enable the range of courses being offered by both universities to be expanded.
New courses for Gippsland could include engineering, graphic design and multimedia, human movement and sports science, early childhood, metallurgy and health science. For the Ballarat and Wimmera regions, new courses could include human resource management, criminal justice and criminology, bioscience, geomechanics, geohydrology and midwifery.
The universities said the new proposal would allow the Gippsland campus to “pursue greater flexibility in entry requirements” and meant they could “respond more quickly and effectively to the demands of the local community, tailoring education to better meet the needs of students who live, work and engage in a regional setting”.
They also said maintaining close ties with regional TAFEs would be an important part of the plan, but the Gippsland campus would continue as a dedicated higher education campus.
Battersby said students currently enrolled in courses at Ballarat and at Monash would not be directly affected and that they would be able to complete the qualification in which they enrolled.
He also said there were no plans to cut staff, and that both institutions were obliged to adhere to the Fair Work Act, which would protect staff if the proposal went ahead.
Battersby said the two institutions had already talked with staff about courses currently offered by theUniversityofBallaratthat could also be offered at Gippsland, and vice versa.
“This is about growth,” he said. “It’s about growth in numbers of students, it’s about growing the staff profile.”
Dr Caroline Perkins, executive director of RUN, said her organisation would welcome the inclusion of Monash’s Gippsland campus into theUniversityofBallarat, which is already aligned with RUN.
“The University of Ballarat has a very strong track record in delivering higher education and vocational education training in regional Victoria,” she said, “and it’s very much tailored and very good at teaching students who are perhaps … less familiar with higher education.”
The proposition would require approval by both state and federal governments and also TEQSA in order to proceed, “following completion of due-diligence work by both universities, and consultations with staff, students and key stakeholders”, the universities said.
Once approved, the new regionally focused university could come into existence as soon as January 1, 2014.
By Antonia Maiolo