Higher education & community benefits : the role of regional provision.

Sarah Richardson, ACER

Abstract

This briefing explores the role of higher education provision in regional areas and its impact on students and local communities. It is timely given the release in May 2011 of a report from the Grattan Institute (Daley and Lancy, 2011) that suggested universities in regional areas of Australia neither encourage innovation nor enhance tertiary participation rates among regional populations, nor lead to the retention of skilled workers in regional areas. By analysing data from national collections derived from research with students, this briefing examines each of these conclusions in turn. The Grattan Institute report suggested that, rather than providing additional financial support for regional universities, governments should support regional students to study at urban institutions or in large regional centres only. These conclusions were reached by considering economic factors alone — an approach that fails to take into account any social benefits that may accrue for regional areas when people are able to gain a higher education without moving away. Social benefits are less easily measurable than economic ones, but this does not diminish their importance and impact. Equally, the economic consequences that derive from social benefits, while often hidden, should not be underestimated. This briefing brings together evidence from key data sources to investigate the ways in which regional provision of higher education in Australia benefits regional areas. In contrast to the Grattan Institute approach, the social impact of higher education on regional communities is investigated. The briefing synthesises data from a number of sources to consider the characteristics and outcomes of students, and their contributions to their local communities. The briefing looks at patterns of regional education —which students attend regional higher education. [Author abstract]