INCREASED competition for students between higher education providers is not a bad thing for regional universities, says Regional Universities Network chief executive Dr Caroline Perkins.
Established in October last year, the network has set its sights on improving the research capacity of regional universities and the communities in which they are based.
Since January 1, the Federal Government's student demand driven system has meant universities compete for student numbers, rather than the government allocating a capped number of seats in courses.
Dr Perkins said while the new system had increased competition, the connection regional universities had with their local communities meant the regional sector was still doing well.
She said the regional network was created due in part due to the stark figures on regional higher education. High school students in regional areas are 20 per cent less likely to matriculate than their city counterparts.
And while some 63 per cent of young people in metropolitan areas aspired to completing a degree, only 39 per cent of students in regional areas and 32 per cent in remote areas shared the same goal.
"While you can't deny that the government has done a lot in recent years to help the higher education sector, we thought the time was right to start the network," she said.
"We see that regional universities play a major role in their local communities, not just as employers or educating young people, but we can play a role as a collaborative regional research network ,and we also play a role in the economic and social fabric of our communities."
Dr Perkins said that testament to the local role regional universities played was figures that showed five years after completing a degree about 66 per cent of graduates were still working in the same region in which they studied was testament to the role regional universities played.
"Compare that statistic with the city figures, where less than a quarter of those who studied in a city university return to the region they came from, and it shows that we are already building the human capital that regional Australia needs," she said.
"So despite the increase in competition due to the demand-driven system, I think with our relationship to regional communities, we are in a good place to compete.
"Plus there has been tremendous good will from the general community about the network and what we plan to do."
Dr Perkins said the network planned to produce a policy platform later this year that would further define its plans.
The Regional Universities Network comprises CQ University, University of Southern Queensland, University of Sunshine Coast (Queensland); Southern Cross University, University of New England (New South Wales), and; University of Ballarat (Victoria).
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