Uni expansion hangs on party vows

The USC banner blows above the Petrie campus construction site, in the heart of Dickson.

By Courtney Lynch

The USC banner blows above the Petrie campus construction site, in the heart of Dickson.

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USC may have jumped the gun on construction of its new Moreton Bay campus as the move depends on plenty of party promises leading into the Federal election.

Petrie’s university is currently more crane than classroom as USC chief operations officer Scott Snyder said his team aimed to complete the campus by February 7, 2020 under a ramped-up, revised building plan.

National Tertiary Education Union Queensland Secretary Michael McNally said it was great the institution attained initial funding for the project, yet the LNP’s funding cuts could cripple its future.

“It’s unfortunate that they have started the campus at a point in time where funding has been frozen, which has added pressure to the university,” Mr McNally said.

Mr McNally said that although students’ fees were providing the funds, they were not the only ones paying.

“The people that pay for that expansion are the staff because the resources always lag behind the students,” Mr McNally said.

“That means instead of delivering quality services to the current cohort of students, they’re stripping its savings so that they can expand their capacity and expand their footprint to teach a larger number of cohorts.”

University of Southern Queensland senior lecturer of curriculum and pedagogy Stewart Riddle said having a new regional university was a positive step towards helping areas school leavers.

“Regional universities are essential for the economic and social health of our country,” Dr Riddle said.

“Not everyone who finishes school wants to go to university, and that’s fine, but it’s important that anyone that wants to be able to further their studies should have the access and opportunity to do so.

“Regional universities and the growing online/long-distance study options make this much easier than it used to be.”

Mr McNally said it was good to have accessibility to regional students, with the Petrie campus right next to a train line.

But he said it was a bit difficult to understand where USC’s priorities lay in terms of spending.

“We have this weird dichotomy where you have universities continually trying to bring more and more teaching online,” Mr McNally said.

“Yet they are building new campuses, they are replacing old buildings with new buildings and creating spaces that are often very expensive.”

At a USC Sippy Downs staff meeting in March, Dr Snyder said they did not yet have all the funds to complete Moreton Bay entirely, but had secured an election promise from the Opposition.

The Australian Labor Party has pledged an increase of $174 million over 10 years on top of the LNP’s contribution of $69.4 million from 2017 to 2020. Government grants and loans for building the campus have also been awarded.

The Greens are also promising 10 per cent on top of Labor’s increase, saying tertiary education is an investment in the country’s future.

Candidate for Dickson Benedict Coyne said it was important to ensure universities delivered graduates with skills to meet markets.

“We have so many university campuses in Queensland, we don’t want to saturate the market,”Mr Coyne said.

The Dickson candidate also said he has seen these impacts first hand, being a human rights lawyer.

“The number of lawyers who have graduated has just been a glut in the market,” Mr Coyne said.

Dr Snyder said USC’s current focus was on recruitment of academic staff for USC Moreton Bay, which will offer 44 programs with 125 courses in their opening year.

Additional reporting by Dylan Fewings.