Ballarat benefits from being a university town
At the start of a new decade, Australia's regional towns are poised to play a more significant part in our country's nation-building.
Despite the allure of our big cities, for many they are becoming unaffordable, congested and stressful places to live.
People are increasingly looking to regional towns for a different experience for their children, their work and retirement.
Ballarat is benefitting from this trend, with an annual population growth now exceeding two per cent. It is not hard to understand why when you consider the town's rich cultural heritage, thriving arts scene, lower cost of living and proximity to Melbourne.
Recent state and federal initiatives are also promoting the regions, such as the decentralisation of selected government services to regional towns, supporting technology precincts, and the new Destination Australia scholarships to attract more domestic and international students to study at regional universities.
A major asset for regional towns is having a university presence and Ballarat has the fortune of being home to Federation University's Mt Helen and CBD campuses and one of ACU's satellite campuses.
When we think of university towns, Oxford or Cambridge might typically come to mind, with their long histories and obvious university presence in the town's centre.
However, universities across the globe contribute to the local economy and civic life in many different ways. Regionally located universities in Australia have a unique role in this respect.
How does a university presence benefit a regional town?
Based on domestic higher education students alone, in 2018 Federation University contributed more than $230 million in real GDP, or four per cent of the Ballarat economy.
More tangible insights of university impact are provided by the employment figures of graduates. On average, around 70 per cent of undergraduates from regional universities will gain employment locally, meeting the workforce needs of the community for teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, accountants, environmental scientists, IT specialists, sports scientists and more.
Without local graduates, attracting the required workforce to regional towns is challenging.
Regional universities are themselves major employers, providing technical, professional and academic work opportunities that attract both Australian and international staff. Federation University employs over 1,000 staff at our Ballarat campuses and this global talent contributes to the intellectual and cultural diversity of our regional communities and enhances international relations
The creation of technology parks co-located with the university also add to the employment opportunities. For example, at the Federation University Ballarat Technology Park, the largest of its kind in Australia, over 2,000 jobs are provided through 60 different enterprises. In addition, partnership with local business incubators, such as Runway, help to drive entrepreneurship and innovation in Ballarat.
Regional universities spend locally, buying a range of good and services from the local community. They also provide services to their local communities such as child care, sporting and leisure facilities, cultural activities, conference and meeting venues.
Regional universities also contribute to the cultural capital of their towns, particularly in visual and performing arts. For example, the celebration of Ballarat becoming a Compassionate City by signing up to the global Charter for Compassion, included a wonderful concert featuring Federation University's performing arts students alongside professional opera singers and musicians.
At times of crisis, as we have already witnessed with the bushfire emergency, regional universities can become a valuable resource, offering emergency accommodation, volunteers, health professionals, support for injured wildlife and research capability.
So, for a city like Ballarat with all the knowledge, talent and resources available at its universities, how can this be effectively galvanised to the community's social greater advantage? As Ballarat strives to define its future potential, joining forces with its local universities will strengthen the opportunity to create a thriving social, cultural and economic community.
Together, universities, government and businesses can maximise community outcomes and drive jobs and economic development by jointly working in so many ways - planning priorities, research collaboration, business innovation, industry partnerships, student internships, graduate employment and civic engagement.
There are many lessons from around the world to support our region's development and to contribute to a sustainable future.
This week, Sir Peter Downes - past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee in Scotland - will share with Federation University and the Committee for Ballarat how the University of Dundee contributed to the social and economic transformation of Dundee. Dundee was recognised by the United Nations in 2014 as a UNESCO City of Design for its leadership in medical research and digital entertainment.
Learning from such experiences can help Ballarat define its future and maximise its opportunities as a university city.
Professor Helen Bartlett, Vice-Chancellor and President, Federation University Australia