I usually like coincidence and I have often thought that things don’t just happen by chance.
Coincidence can remind us of connections we might not have made or valued, and it can lead us to new thinking and associations.
And so on the eve of the federal budget, when I had the pleasure of opening our stunning new Mount Gambier Learning Centre, I did reflect for a moment on some significant coincidences.
This centre – with its $7 million high speed fibre connections, the envy of many regional centres – was 11 years in the making and funded by more than $12m from the Federal Government, UniSA, the local council and some private contributions.
It is a centre that opens the door to accessible education for students in the Limestone Coast region and, coincidentally, was opened almost 25 years to the day that the University of South Australia unveiled itself to the South Australian community.
It meant a great deal to me and to all those involved, that 25 years on, UniSA was being very true to its founding mission of being a different type of higher education institution with a wider social purpose than the more traditional institutions of times past.
And this was a project that came from the community, was built by the community and will serve the community.
One particular notable symbol of this community spirit was acknowledged by our decision to name the major lecture theatre after Bob and Gayle Cowan who have been generous education philanthropists for over 20 years. I left it to the 11th hour to tell them as I knew they were so modest there was a risk they'd say no!
But that brings me to the latest federal budget or at least one aspect of it.
While the overall outcome, which is a step in the right direction, is that we have an options paper to consider and a round of no doubt robust consultation before a wider round of decisions are made, we need to note at least one decision right now that will have real impacts.
It has been announced that the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships program (HEPPP) will be cut by 20 per cent over the forward estimates.
This program is specifically designed to help students from lower socio-economic groups into tertiary education.
UniSA has received around $6m from HEPPP, which supports a number of our activities, including programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and the provision of equity based scholarships.
Importantly, it also supports a range of programs for a variety of students in regions just like Mount Gambier.
Quite simply it is a pity that at precisely the time when we are showing significant progress in building higher education in communities, and skilling and equipping our minds for the future, programs like this are cut short.
We know education fosters innovation and excellence; it builds capacity, but that also needs time and consistency.
UniSA will remain committed to the regions – we’re not for turning – but this does point to an ongoing need for us to continue to make the case to governments and the community about what can be achieved when we continue to invest.
And the release of the higher education options paper also just happens to be a nice coincidental backdrop to unijam on the 19-20th May. Yes unijam is back!
I’m sure you have seen and heard about it, but if not I urge you to register. Halfway through our Crossing the Horizon action plan is a good time to take stock, reflect on progress and reset for the future.
We have much to be proud of with the Health Innovation Building and Great Hall rising out of the ground, while our research outcomes and the success of our graduates powers on.
But let’s get online, have a conversation, and who knows what coincidences we might find.
Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President
Chair of the Australian Technology Network of Universities