By Andrew Trounson
The University of Ballarat would take over Monash University‘s Churchill campus in regional Gippsland by early next year under a jointly proposed plan announced by the Victorian government.
Under the plan Ballarat would expand course offerings at Gippsland and provide more open student entry to boost regional participation. The arrangement would appear to free Monash to better focus on its international expansion plans and research profile.
Churchill would add about 4,500 internal and external students to Ballarat’s existing 23,000 students.
The proposal is an about-face by Monash that last year had been planning to keep Gippsland but differentiate it as part of a “systems” strategy with specific Gippsland vocational degrees, testamurs, and lower entry scores while cultivating Monash’s elite entry brand at its Melbourne metropolitan campuses.
The agreement is an example of a potential trend in the sector towards greater differentiation and specialization among universities. It follows the Commonwealth’s move to uncap the supply of government supported student places, freeing universities to pursue their own growth strategies.
The preliminary agreement is subject to due diligence by both universities, stakeholder consultation, as well as approvals from both the State and Commonwealth governments.
“Monash University has made a significant contribution to the Gippsland region through its university campus over the past 20 years and the University of Ballarat will build on that foundation, bringing its special expertise in regional higher education provision,” Victorian higher education and skills minister Peter Hall said in a statement.
He said if the proposal went ahead, new courses that could be offered at the Gippsland campus include engineering, graphic design and multimedia, human movement and sports science, early childhood, metallurgy and health science. Ballarat would also benefit by being able to offer at its campuses possible new courses in human resource management, criminal justice and criminology, bioscience, geomechanics, geohydrology and midwifery.
“Students across the state would benefit, giving them access to a wider range of courses and to support services that are tailored to the needs of regional students,” Mr Hall said.
He said the proposal was in line with recommendations in the Gippsland Tertiary Education Plan proposed by an expert panel at the end of 2001. The panel led by former University of Melbourne vice chancellor Kwong Lee Dow “found expanded course offerings and greater flexibility in entry requirements at the Churchill university campus would benefit the Gippsland region,” Mr Hall said.
Professor Lee Dow’s report had noted that Monash had a minimum ATAR of 70 compared with an average in Gippsland of 65.40. Only 34.5 per cent of school-leavers in the area go on to study a bachelors degree in their first year out, compared with a Victorian average of 50 per cent. Of these, almost a quarter opt for Monash Gippsland, with the other main destinations being Monash’s Clayton campus, Deakin and La Trobe universities.