THE student population of Dubbo’s Charles Sturt University (CSU) campus could grow with the development of government policy for regional universities, suggests Australian Senator Fiona Nash.
The inclusion of a tertiary access allowance in such a policy could help Western NSW residents take the higher education leap in Dubbo, she says.
Ms Nash said more enrolments at the campus would increase its economic and social contribution to the city, already playing its part in firming up the regional workforce.
The senator, from country NSW, contends that the mooted policy would seek to address the unique challenges faced by regional universities that were "vital to Australia's education fabric and make an enormous contribution to regional Australia, its sustainable future, and therefore the nation".
"The economic and social contribution of these universities to their region is extensive, but, more importantly, students who study there are demonstrably far more likely to go on to pursue a career in regional Australia," Ms Nash said.
"If we agree that regional universities are quite different and that it is in the national interest to secure their future, it follows that we need a distinct regional universities policy from government."
Ms Nash, the federal opposition spokeswoman for regional education, is throwing open the door to debate, even though she cannot currently promise the opposition will form a regional universities policy if elected to government.
CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann has been among the first to speak up.
"Charles Sturt University supports the comments by Senator Fiona Nash," he said.
"Regionally-based universities play a critical role in facilitating economic, cultural and social development in their communities."
Professor Vann said in the United States the term "anchor institution" was used to describe some of its universities.
"We think this captures the contribution very well," he said.
"There is a distinct difference in communities that have their own university and a very clear return on this investment."
The professor gave as an example the four public dentists and 12 oral therapists who had begun working at Orange hospital since the CSU dental school was established in the city.
"This is an example of how investing in regional education builds regional capacity across a diverse range of areas, making these communities attractive places in which to live and work, and addressing social disadvantage," he said.