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Does a University town bring real benefits or is it all just spin?

Edited extract of address to the Business Leader’s Luncheon in Warrnambool on Monday 26 September.

My topic today is, “Does a University town bring real benefits or is it all just spin?”

Many towns do not have a university.  Those that do are often fiercely proud of what they have.  All towns put up a fight at the merest rumour that the University will close or leave town. 

So what is it all about?  Is it just spin and fluff? Or is there more to it?

If we look around the world for examples of successful University towns, especially towns some distance from the metropolitan centre or capital city, we usually first of all think of Oxford and Cambridge.  Both of these universities have over 800 years of history and tradition (Oxford is usually cited as the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Bologna being the originating university). But these examples are not terribly helpful to us as successful models without that 800 year-old pedigree. After 800 years it is impossible to consider either towns without their universities and vice versa.

If we look a bit later on in history at the very late 19th century and early 20th century we could consider the establishment of Stanford University in the USA, some 60 kilometres from San Francisco.  Hi-tech developments at Stanford in the 1940s and 50s, the encouragement given by the university to graduates to start up their own companies, a powerful political and business focus at the time on regionalism along the Western seaboard of the USA, and a desire to build self-sufficient local industry all combined to lead to the rise of what we now know as Silicon Valley, in the area adjacent to the university.  An extra ordinary successful example of wealth generation and community enablement.

A little closer to home we could look at models of university “towns” such as Wollongong, Newcastle and Ballarat. When you examine each of these examples closely, each case is different.

So what about Deakin.  We have a series of campuses, an archipelago beginning in Melbourne in the north and stretching around the Bay to Geelong and down to Warrnambool on the Southern Ocean.  Deakin is now the 10th largest university, comprehensive, with law, engineering, architecture and medical schools and everything in between.  And a reputation for distance education, engineering and health.

One very important feature of the way Deakin has operated since the formation of its multi-campus operations in the early 1990s has been to firmly espouse the concept of “one Deakin”. 

We have not gone down the path of developing separate degrees for each campus or having each campus as its own business and paying its way.  We do have some courses that are unique to their campus location such as Architecture at our Waterfront Campus, Engineering at the Waurn Ponds Campus and Marine Biology and Freshwater Biology here at Warrnambool.  However courses such as Arts, Commerce and Nursing are the same at each campus, and the key theme of ONE DEAKIN means the same academic standards apply everywhere.  BUT the entry standards and available options differ.  We ensure the maintenance of our academic standards through such mechanisms as cross campus moderation and blind marking of assessment. 

Also, on each campus, we offer a wide range of academic skills programs for all students who are academically underprepared.  Academic “under-preparedness” is often evident in students from low socio economic status (low SES) backgrounds and/or students who are first in their family to go to University.  At Deakin we have many such students.  An example of the kind of support program we run here at Warrnambool is the University Life mentoring program, built on a partnership between our School of Education and Warrnambool College.  It targets year 9 students who have a good academic track record but who may not have considered university study.  These Year 9 students participate side-by-side with Deakin undergraduate students in a series of activities intended to demystify university life and study, provide information about opportunities and build confidence and develop the means to aspire to university study.

Many of you will be familiar with the Deakin at Your Doorstep project which provides an Associate Degree deliver from the Warrnambool Campus to learning centres established at various TAFEs throughout Victoria.  This model enables students in small population centres to participate in face-to-face university education through state-of-the-art video conferencing facilities. 

Deakin offers the Associate Degree to provide greater opportunities for students in rural and regional areas, for those who may not have met the prerequisites for their chosen university course, as well as providing an option for students who would prefer a more supported entry to tertiary study.

But I do not see Warrnambool as a regional or rural campus.  It is a Deakin University campus.  It has 1500 students, it has excellence in marine and aquatic science and it has real excellence in preparing the underprepared for success.

This is not spin.  It is evidenced based and measured and monitored and managed.  Why?  Because a university must pursue excellence.
So what sort of an impact does the University experience have on one’s life?  This is the big question.  Does a university education improve your life?

Perhaps no one has written as eloquently about the aspirations of a modern university than former Yale President Bart Giamatti.  In his address, "The Earthly Uses of a Liberal Education" he explained,

"A liberal education has nothing to do with those political designer labels liberal and conservative … A liberal education is not one that seeks to implant the precepts of a specific religious or political orthodoxy," but rather "rests on the supposition that our humanity is enriched by the pursuit of learning … it is dedicated to the proposition that growth in thought, in the power to think, increases the pleasure, breadth, and value of life."

I agree.  At Deakin we want the student experience to be a good one – we want students to look back and remember their time at Deakin as the most significant in their life.  We strive to make this happen through excellent teaching and learning, exposure to cutting-edge research, creating an environment where students can socialise and make friends and prepare themselves for the rest of their lives.  Studies have repeatedly shown that holding a degree means you will earn more money – we want to prepare students for jobs, even jobs that haven’t been thought of yet – and to do this we strive to ensure the Deakin student experience has taught our graduates to be resourceful, good communicators, to work in teams and to be good citizens.

So a university is useful to individuals.  BUT how does any of this help the city of Warrnambool?

In 2009 Deakin University commissioned a study from the Western Research Institute to assess the economic impact of Deakin on its various geographical locations and the report of the study was released in 2010.

The study revealed that the impact of Deakin on the combined local government areas of Warrnambool and Moyne is $52 million in output, $36 million in gross regional product and $16 million in household income.  When the expenditure of students is added, and the flow-on effects taken into account, those figures increase to $62 million in output, $42 million in GRP and $18 million in household income.  Deakin Warrnambool and its students generate 261 full time equivalent jobs to the economy of Warrnambool and Moyne.  In percentage terms this equates to 1.5 percent of FTE employment, 2.0 per cent of household income and 1.9 per cent of GRP. 

As the report states, the economic impact of Deakin is not limited to the direct and indirect impacts of our operations.  Deakin’s contribution to regional employment and human capital is demonstrated by the location of initial employment of our graduates.  The study found that 40 per cent of graduates from the Warrnambool Campus secure jobs in the Warrnambool and Moyne areas, 6 per cent in the Geelong region and a further 11 per cent found positions elsewhere in the Barwon South-West region.  21 per cent found their first jobs in Melbourne, 12 per cent in other regional areas, 5 per cent in other metropolitan regions and 5 per cent overseas.

Deakin’s combined operations at the Geelong and Warrnambool Campuses (in 2009) were estimated to have accounted for about $475.5 million in output, $288 million in GRP, more than 2,739 full time equivalent direct and indirect jobs and $197.4 million in household income in the Barwon and Western District regions.

So there is value in what we do beyond the enabling of the people we educate.

So I  think the evidence is clear: Universities and their campuses have a substantial impact on the economies of regional cities in which they are based.

But what about the social side?   In this week as we move to that most religious event in our calendar – the GF –  I  know how much our campus in Warrnambool contributes to the community

There has been a great synergy between this city and our University for a long time.  It must grow because people depend on us to be
•    contributors to the regional economy
•    as partners in business ventures, and
•    whether it be on the footy field or the netball court, or in providing other facilities and opportunities for this community … as friends.

So to return to my topic for today, “Does a University town bring real benefits or is it all just spin?” I hope I have been able to show you that a university town does bring real benefits; that it is not all just spin,

But, of course, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  It’s really what you, the residents of Warrnambool think that counts.  I hope you will take the opportunity today, or in the future, to let me know if you think Deakin University brings benefits to Warrnambool and the region, and in doing so you will be helping us shape Deakin’s future in Western Victoria.

But I wonder what we might have achieved in 100 years, here in Warrnambool??  I will bet that whatever we are doing it will be excellent. 

See copy of full address attached.

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