Regional unis play a vital role, says CQU Vice-Chancellor

21 September 2022

Original column by CQU Vice-Chancellor and President Prof Nick Klomp'
Published in CQ Today
20 September' 2022

The recent Jobs & Skills Summit in Canberra has been heralded as a success' with the proposals for fee-free TAFE places and post study work visas' but it's vital that regional areas like Central Queensland aren't forgotten for the sake of short-term gains.

I applaud the Albanese government for its rapid action to find innovative solutions to the nation's jobs and skills issues' but our regions are still at risk.

While our capital cities struggle through the worst skills shortage in recent memory' regional Australia is doing it even tougher. Recent National Skills Commission data reveals regional employers can only fill 57 per cent of their vacancies' compared to 63 per cent in the cities.

And of the 127 occupations that are currently in shortage in Queensland' for example' 18 are unique to the regions. According to the regional employers I've spoken to' it's only getting worse.

Australians who grow up in regional' rural and remote communities are around 40 per cent less likely to attend university than their city counterparts. Similar statistics exist for the VET sector.

You can draw a direct line between this disturbing trend and the current regional skills crisis; shortages of teachers' nurses' engineers and physiotherapists mean basic services aren't being delivered' even in regions that are growing.

Fixing this shocking imbalance requires innovative policy and funding measures to make regional education and training more attractive to regional people.

It may be tempting for our metropolitan colleagues to dismiss this plight as a "regional problem".

Not true – Australia derives around 80 per cent of its national export revenue from regional' rural and remote communities' so a failure to solve this challenge for regional industry puts the entire country in economic peril.

And this challenge can't be addressed by metropolitan solutions that simply "hollow out" the regions by encouraging our young adults to leave the regions to study and work. Regional communities need the support to provide their own long-term' local solutions.

Tangible solutions – and not just lip service – are desperately needed if we are to defeat the skills shortage that has befallen regional Australia.

Want another example? The Government's proposal to increase post-study work rights for international students is a much-needed measure to address Australia's critical skills shortage and grow our economy – it makes sense to increase the 16 per cent of international students who remain in Australia post-graduation' but it is imperative that the regional bonus currently available in international post-study work rights policy is maintained because otherwise the regions will lose again.

Regional universities play a vital role in driving Australia's economic and social prosperity forward' providing opportunities for students' both domestic and international' to engage with higher education' world class research' and community partnerships. And they are the engineering room of our future workforce outside of the metros.

It's regional tertiary education and training providers' like CQUniversity that are on the front lines of this battle. We now desperately need the ammunition to win the war.