Academic: Train professionals in the regions for development

THE best way to get professionals to work in and develop regional Australia is to train them in the regions.

That is the message Regional Universities Network chairman Peter Lee is today preaching to the converted at a conference championing higher education outside major cities, where more than a third of Australians live.

The Southern Cross University vice chancellor believes regional universities have a fundamental role to play in developing the nation, noting the population in regional areas is expected to grow 26% by 2026.

But he is concerned about the significant gap between higher education attainment the further you travel from the capitals.

"Regional Australia needs trained professional to work in the regions, to innovate and diversify regional industry and fully participate in the modern economy, to grow regional development and enhance regional productivity," he said.

"As public institutions, regional development is core business to regional universities rather than an add-on to learning, teaching and research functions.

"Economic diversification would pave the way for regional Australia to open up new economic activities including new service industries, niche manufacturing, creative technology, sustainability and green jobs."

Mr Lee, based in Lismore, said 60-80% of RUN graduates were employed in regional Australia a year after graduation.

He said people with post-school qualifications not only had greater opportunity for employment, higher earnings and better health, but they also made a greater, broader contribution to society.

University of the Sunshine Coast deputy vice-chancellor Birgit Lohmann, also at the RUN conference on the Gold Coast, said the education and training sector was an economic sector in its own right, noting her uni was one of the biggest contributors to her region.

"Planning for the provision of quality education and training in Queensland is potentially best served by plans at the regional, rather than the state, level because Queensland is so large, diverse and regionalised," she said.

Mr Lee said it was RUN's role to convince the new government to implement policies that would continue to address the gap in attaining higher education between regional Australia and capital cities.

He said the student demand driven system was critical in lifting this participation and enabled regional universities to begin new courses, such as allied health and engineering, to increase the number of professionals in the regions.

"RUN will vigorously put the view that any recapping of places at regional universities will impact on the ability of our institutions to grow participation in higher education in regional Australia, enhance regional development, and diversify regional industries and economies," he said.

- Regional Australians make up 34% (7.7 million people) of the population.
- The population outside major cities rose 6.6% between 2007 and 2012.
- Population outside major cities is expected to grow 26% by 2026.
- 31% of people aged 25-64 living in major cities held a bachelor degree or higher, compared to about half that in regional Australia.
- 63% of young people in metro areas intend to enrol in higher education but only 39% in provincial areas and 32% in remote areas.