Toowoomba very reliant on education sector – risk from higher ed reform

An article in the Toowoomba Chronicle has reminded me just how significant the University of Southern Queensland has been to Toowoomba’s economic development and prosperity, and the USQ Vice-Chancellor is certainly right to be concerned about potential higher education policy changes (USQ boss claims regulations will hit regions the hardest):

THE University of Southern Queensland warned that any move to regulate university enrolments for students would have serious consequences for regional and rural Australia.

USQ vice-chancellor Professor Jan Thomas said that any proposal to limit the places available, or to move away from participation targets, should be carefully considered.

As I posted on earlier this week (Commonwealth should give up student target – big savings possible from higher ed reform), I’m a supporter of the proposed changes, but I would acknowledge there are risks involved. Unfortunately, we’ve used universities as a regional economic development tool, but this has meant some regional economies may have become too reliant on their universities.

I’m reluctant to suggest this is the case for Toowoomba, given it is a relatively large city by Queensland regional standards, but Census data do indicate education and training sector employment is proportionately much higher in Toowoomba than in the rest of Queensland (see chart below in which I compare Toowoomba with some other regional centres with universities and the State average). To an extent, this may be to do with Toowoomba being an important centre of secondary education for the Darling Downs, but I expect USQ is an important contributor. Hence there is undoubtedly a risk to Toowoomba from higher education funding changes.

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