Launceston and Burnie’s university campuses are not under financial threat, despite reports and emerging claims from a strategic directions report released in November.
Labor MPs Ross Hart and Justine Keay responded to media reports on Thursday and called on Tasmania’s Senators to give “immediate assurances” that the campuses have a “long-term future in Launceston and Burnie”.
The strategic directions report outlined the institution’s commitment to the regions but said that if bipartisan support for its ambitious Northern Transformation project had not been secured the regional campuses may have been in doubt.
“If not for the nationally unique Commonwealth, state and university investment in the Northern Transformation, we would be facing the prospect of campus closures in Launceston and Burnie – not their renewal,” the report read.
However, support for the campuses and the $470 million Northern Transformation plan was secured as part of the Launceston City Deal and during the last federal election.
The commitment has been made and no further funding is required for the campuses.
A development application for Burnie’s West Park campus has been submitted to the Burnie City Council and a DA for Inveresk is expected this year.
UTAS acting vice-chancellor Jane Long said UTAS had committed to regional Tasmania and was enacting the measures mentioned in the strategic directions report, to move away from a traditional “hub-and-spoke model” to a more regionally diverse higher education institution for the whole of Tasmania.
“We also have determined to be a university which is self-sufficient. One which can operate with greater control and confidence,” Professor Long said.
“We have not been able to so far, which is why we sought investment in the North and North-West of the state.”
The strategic directions report said UTAS needed to cut costs and save $30 million per year to ensure it reached a budget surplus, to remain more sustainable into the future.
Professor Long said the savings strategy would be implemented by attracting more students and stemming the tide of Tasmanian graduates heading to the mainland.
“While we have seen significant growth in terms of student numbers in recent years, we have not seen that growth in our core undergraduate and postgraduate offerings delivered on our Tasmanian campuses,” she said.
Professor Long said the savings strategy would not include cutting jobs, but rather “adding scale and working in even smarter ways”.
The strategic directions paper says the university needs to focus on “supporting the breadth of our offering but also ensuring we deepen the capabilities available to the state and ourselves by growing our proportion of postgraduate and research higher degree students”.
“To attract sufficient Tasmanians and mainland students at every level in a very competitive higher education market, we need to make our place-based identity not just our mission but our source of competitive advantage. We need to be bold about being place-based, using this to shape how we offer our degrees and creating a truly distinctive offering that sets us apart from other Australian universities.”
Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck called out Mr Hart and Ms Keay on their comments, saying it was clear “these two are not talking to the university”.
“UTAS has been very clear that they are in fact looking to grow, increase their scale and attract more Tasmanian students. This confidence is clearly based on the facts,” he said.
“This latest claim is more disastrous than Ross Hart’s train wreck interview with Brian Carlton and more irresponsible than Ms Keay’s claims that she had no issues with her citizenship.”
The strategic directions paper is available on the UTAS website.
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