Regional universities could be worse off under government funding changes.
Regional universities could be worse off under government funding changes. Jacob Ammentorp Lund

How Rockhampton uni students are being left behind

REGIONAL students have been hit again - this time by a freeze on funding to universities that will reinforce the city-country education gap.

A Federal Government funding freeze announced in December means universities will not receive additional funding for any increase in student numbers in the next two years.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the changes would make universities more efficient and urged tertiary bodies to cut advertising budgets, not classes.

But University of Sunshine Coast vice chancellor and Regional Universities Network chair Greg Hill said the freeze would stop institutions accepting more students in towns and cities - where university degrees are already less common than in capital cities.

The 2016 Census reveals regional communities have a lower percentage of people with university degrees than in capital cities and a lower percentage of residents studying at university.

In Brisbane 32.6 per cent of adults have university degrees and 10.5 per cent are studying.

But in Rockhampton the figures are about a third of Brisbane's - 11.9 per cent of adults have a tertiary degree and 4.3 per cent were studying.


Prof Hill said capital city universities could count on full-fee paying international students, whose positions did not rely on government funding - a luxury regional unis did not have.

"This freeze will disproportionately hurt regional universities. We simply do not have the options the sandstone universities in the capital cities have," he said.

Prof Hill said planned expansions at seven major regional universities could not occur under the funding scheme and the cost of recently completed projects would not be recouped.

"Before the budget cuts were announced universities had already offered places to students for the next year - often an increase on 2017," he said.

But Education Minister Birmingham defended the government's freeze, pointing to the sector's $1.7 billion marketing spend.

"Are universities really saying they can't find a meagre 1.5 per cent of efficiencies across their $17 billion budgets? If so, then they should be embarrassed for putting administrative and marketing budgets before their students," he said.

Senator Birmingham said the government had committed $70 million to helping regionally-based universities.

"We've also guaranteed the regional student loading stays in place and keeps growing, that equity payments to support disadvantaged students stay in place, that research funding stays in place and keeps growing. So, unis will see continued growth streams in their revenue, as well as have the opportunity to keep determining themselves what disciplines they enrol students in and how many students they enrol," he said.

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said Labor was committed to opposing the changes.

"Regional unis will be hit particularly hard by the cuts, because they rely more heavily on government funding," she said.

"Labor will fight Malcolm Turnbull's uni cuts. Labor is fully committed to the demand-driven system." -NewsRegional