A PLAN to build domestic student numbers at Monash University Gippsland by easing entry requirements was outlined to local staff this week.
University of Ballarat Pro Vice Chancellor David Battersby was in the Latrobe Valley to sell the implementation plan for a new regional university entity to cautiously receptive staff and student bodies.
He told The Express while not all questions had been answered and some difficulties remained, he was firmly focused on “opportunities”.
Chief among those opportunities was the chance to improve “outputs in terms of graduates’ employment” by broadening the university’s student base.
A new university, to be known as either State University or Federation University, subject to further consultation and eventual approval by the UB’s council, still requires formal approval by state and federal governments.
However, Professor Battersby said he was “extremely optimistic” that it could be secured.
UB and council
The Pro Vice Chancellor had optimism in spades this week, and said he was confident of forging a partnership with Latrobe City Council despite a number of councillors objecting publicly to the transition.
Professor Battersby met with Latrobe City Council Monday afternoon, but days earlier Councillor Christine Sindt told her fellow councillors, in a letter, “the takeover of our Group of Eight University by an unranked university,” represented, in football parlance, “the difference between playing in the AFL or a dusty outback oval without goalposts”.
Cr Sindt also approached La Trobe University seeking its interest in merging with the local Monash campus, rather than UB.
Professor Battersby said it was “not for me to make a judgement about what a council is doing and who it is talking to, that’s their business and they have every right to do that” but added “my business is about saying here is my vision, here are the opportunities and how can we work with you… I am here to listen to their views, they are a really important stakeholder”.
Yesterday Latrobe City Mayor Sandy Kam issued a statement which said there had been “lots of discussion” between councillors, Mr Battersby and Monash Gippsland Pro Vice Chancellor Robin Pollard on Monday, with council receiving a “commitment from both universities to continue this conversation moving forward”.
While Cr Kam said most councillors were able to attend the meeting, it is understood three did not, including Cr Sindt.
New students targeted
Professor Battersby addressed ongoing concerns by Monash Gippsland staff about funding arrangements for a new entity past the initial 12 months for which Monash had agreed to cover any operational losses.
While he said some of the detail “has to remain commercial in confidence”, Monash was making “very significant” financial and ‘in-kind’ contributions to the new university, “certainly beyond the first year” and, in some areas, joint collaborations would “continue in the long term”.
Forecasting a shifting focus toward attracting students to a new regional university who might not ordinarily consider the possibility, Professor Battersby said “we need to put these folk at the centre of this enterprise”.
More than 70 per cent of UB’s domestic students came from regional areas, he said.
“A lot of our students may not even have finished high school, or (they might) have a TAFE qualification and want to go to university; some may have never thought about whether they could go to uni but now is the time to go,” Professor Battersby said.
“The university is here to meet their needs – we are here to help.”
Responding to concerns the lowering of ATAR score requirements for courses, in line with UB’s approach, would render the local campus “a glorified TAFE”, Professor Battersby said “we are all about outputs… we want (students) to end up with a qualification that makes them employable; saying ‘because you have a certain ATAR number, we don’t want you’, how cruel is that?”
The Pro Vice Chancellor provided data showing graduate employment outcomes after six months, from Australian universities, which placed UB second only to Australian Catholic University and ahead of Monash.
“UB employment rates (post graduation) are 82 to 83 per cent, that’s what counts,” Professor Battersby said.
That inclusive approach was welcomed by some staff The Express spoke with yesterday, however concerns lingered over future staff to student ratios in Gippsland, possible heavier teaching loads at the expense of research capacity, the drain of resources and expertise already happening, the level of support to be provided for the target student population in their transitions to university, the possible reluctance of UB’s council to move away from the Ballarat name and fears that, after years of restructure at the hands of Monash, the current merger proposal might not even eventuate.