University stoush escalates

TENSIONS between Latrobe City Council and Monash University have intensified following a professor’s thinly-veiled attack on council’s criticism of the institution.

In a statement calling for more public submissions to the proposed merger of the Gippsland campus and the University of Ballarat, Pro Vice-Chancellor Robin Pollard said some suggested alternatives to the proposal appeared “unwise”.

“For example, suggestions that the decision should be delayed would only prolong uncertainty and anxiety, reduce student commencements, and lead to cost-cutting,” Prof Pollard said.

The jab did not name council, but came in the wake of its criticism of the university’s community consultation process and formal calls by councillors for a decision on the merger to be delayed.

Councillors yesterday, hit back, with Mayor Sandy Kam insisting council was “looking out for the best interests of the community”.

“There is still a lot of information that hasn’t been presented and if we were better informed, it would create less uncertainty and anxiety in the community,” Cr Kam said.

Councillor Kellie O’Callaghan, who moved last week’s motion to request the universities delay a decision, yesterday accused Monash of rushing through its preferred model to avoid scrutiny.

“Rather than seeking to apportion blame to those who have a role in representing the local community, perhaps they could ask themselves why they do not feel they have a responsibility to ensure that the Gippsland community is fully informed about what this merger will mean for tertiary education in the Gippsland region now and into the future,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

She said it was Monash which had created uncertainty and anxiety among its staff, students and the local community.

Her motion last Monday called for a delay so council and the community could consider other options for tertiary education in Gippsland, but Prof Pollard immediately ruled out an extension.

Meanwhile, the Wellington Shire Council has lodged its formal support for the merger, voting to support in principle, a regionally-focused university at the Gippsland campus.

Cr Darren McCubbin, who moved the motion, said the community should be excited by the proposal.

“You just have to look at the low rate of Gippsland students going on to university to know that a dramatic change is needed to the way we approach tertiary education in this region,” Cr McCubbin said.

“For that very reason a university which caters to the needs of regional areas is a great proposition and one we need to support.”

Submissions to the flagged merger closed yesterday and final proposals are due to be compiled by the start of May, when they will be submitted to the state and federal governments for approval.

More than 180 people attended public forums to discuss the merger and as of Tuesday, nearly 200 written submissions had been lodged.

The university said consultation included staff, Australian and international students, alumni and regional leaders.

“The most striking input is recognition from the greater Gippsland area of the need to improve access to university education,” Prof Pollard said in the statement.