WHAT is the role of a regional university?
That’s a question that the University of Newcastle must confront in virtually every important decision that it makes, and it’s a question that students, also, should address when they look to enrol in an institution that is now half a century old and embarking on what might be called a mid-life shift into the city.
As the Herald has reported on Friday, June 6, a recent Audit Office of NSW report into the state’s universities has shown that the percentage of Newcastle-educated undergraduate students in full-time work sits at about 70 per cent, or just under the 71.8 per cent that the audit office says is the national average for undergraduate employment.
The report also looked at employment outcomes for postgraduates, and found that Newcastle had the best result of the 10 NSW universities, with about 92 per cent of its coursework postgraduates in full-time employment, a figure well above the national average of 86.1 per cent.
PHOTOS: These historical photos capture the University of Newcastle in the 1960s (March 31, 2015)
Of course these figures are gross simplifications of a complex situation: Outcomes will vary substantially between faculties, schools and courses, but the results – especially the undergraduate figure – can be interpreted to say that Newcastle is turning out more graduates than there are positions to fill.
But as former Newcastle academic, Phillip O’Neil, now with the University of Western Sydney, points out, below-average employment outcomes can be equally – or, indeed, more accurately – read as a reflection of the labour market, rather than a criticism of education quality.
As we have noted in this space more than once, Newcastle and the broader Hunter region must compete against an increasingly vociferous Sydney – western Sydney especially – when it comes to attracting employers and creating work.
Read more: University of Newcastle faces funding cuts over four years (August 7, 2017)
Newcastle, like most Australian universities, has fought hard to attract overseas students, who provided about $102 million in fees last year – a substantial contribution to the institution’s overall income of $771 million. But no matter how successfully Newcastle competes for the international student dollar, it exists, primarily, to service its physical catchment.
Obviously, not everyone who studies at Newcastle will work in the region, but a strong university, turning out well-qualified students, will help our economy find new strength in this increasingly post-industrial climate.
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