The Weekly Advertiser Horsham
Campus under review
Wimmera employers and development leaders are joining forces with Federation University Australia to brainstorm how to improve tertiary education and explore ways to develop undergraduate-degree studies in the region.
University vice-chancellor Duncan Bentley stressed the institution’s Wimmera campus would need to change direction before the end of the year to meet industry and education demand.
Emergence of the plans came after Mr Bentley visited the region last month and met with Wimmera Development Association and major employer representatives.
The university’s position in the region has long been a point of discussion and debate.
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy suggested late last year the institution could benefit from providing undergraduate degrees with a focus on key Wimmera industries.
Mr Bentley said education provision in the Wimmera was due for a serious makeover, especially in agricultural and environmental science, engineering, health and hospitality fields.
“We have to come up with a different model – that’s what we will be working on over the coming months with the big employers in the region,” he said.
“This year is critically important for us to reinvigorate the direction for the university. By the end of year, we need to have a much clearer idea of exactly what the short, medium and long-term employment needs are going to be.
“Instead of establishing courses that might or might not get student demand, we need to focus on what is critically needed in the region.”
Mr Bentley said meetings with industry and regional leaders highlighted a need to refocus the education industry to follow an ‘earn and learn’ format for university courses.
“We would like to see what the demand will require in terms of resources and facilities, what employers will bring to the table, what we can bring to the table and how soon we can get it going,” he said.
“Even further to this, we’re looking at a type of ‘earn and learn’ focus, where students start working from day one in a job. Students are more likely to stay in the region when they get into jobs right from the word go.”
Formerly a branch of the University of Ballarat, the Wimmera campus was part of a 2014 Ballarat merger with Monash University Gippsland to form Federation University.
The university confirmed last year it would phase out its Bachelor of Social Sciences. The move meant the Horsham campus no longer offered undergraduate degrees.
Wimmera campus supports about 500 students in a range of mostly Technical and Further Education, TAFE, courses including Vocational Education and Training Delivered to Secondary Students, VETDSS.
Mr Bentley said the biggest challenge leaders were facing was marketing courses to the Wimmera’s diverse needs.
“The big thing at the moment is how do you deliver to really thin markets where you have constantly changing needs?” he said.
“How do we make it so you don’t have to go all the way to Ballarat or Melbourne to be able to get your training. Because if you leave, it’s much more difficult to get you back again.”
Horsham’s Federation TAFE launched five new courses last month to test a jobs market and determine what courses were popular.
It started offering Certificate Iii-level qualifications in individual support, aged care, horticulture, a Certificate IV in Mental Health and a diploma in early childhood education.
Mr Bentley said the new courses targeted indemand industries.
He said offering the courses would generate a better understanding of what courses could potentially expand into university-level studies.
“You can be working in some of these industries without a degree, but if you’re looking to advance into management positions that’s where we’re hoping to fill the gap,” he said.
“We want to find out how we can cater for people wanting to go to the next stage of their skill set and grow their careers.”
He said the university expected industries such as mineral sands and renewable energy to experience a future surge in labour demand.
“If mineral-sands mining gets the green light in the region, we won’t be able to import enough engineers, so we need to look at how we give existing engineers upskilling and specialisation,” he said.
“We also expect the renewable-energy sector will likely need people with the skills to maintain wind turbines.”
Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said the university and employers would play a key role in meeting regional industry workforce demand.
“There’s fairly compelling evidence our region will grow,” he said.
“Employers need support just like the students to make sure those on-the-job learning experiences add to student outcomes and enhance the university’s reputation.”