23 February 2017

A decade ago, it was hard to keep local health workers in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton. 

There was a waiting list of at least three years for some medical treatments.

Then along came the federal Education Investment Fund – with an $18 million grant to build the Rockhampton Health Clinic at CQUniversity.

“Now there’s no waiting list and the people we’ve trained are able to stay in Rockhampton, improving health care in the region,” said CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman.

This remarkable transformation is just one of more than 200 major building projects – including in struggling regional economies – to have been funded through EIF.

They include medical research centres, health clinics, science and engineering research facilities, laboratories and skills training centres on university and vocational education campuses.

In the 2014 Budget, the Abbott Government proposed to shut the fund. The legislation didn’t pass the Parliament.

Then in late December 2016, Treasurer Scott Morrison proposed to revive the plan – this time to transfer the $3.7 billion in the fund to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to pay down Commonwealth debt.

While we strongly support the NDIS, Universities Australia thinks an advanced economy like Australia should be able to fund both disability support services and wealth-generating research and teaching facilities. 

Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson points out that the closure of EIF would end the last remaining federal program dedicated to financing university buildings and infrastructure.

She has urged the Turnbull Government not to close the landmark fund.

“Established by the Howard Government and then supported by Labor in Government, this program funds teaching, training and research facilities at universities right across the country,” she said.

“Without Commonwealth funding for new and refurbished education buildings, future students, communities and the nation will see a gradual erosion of our world-class university facilities.”

At a time of record international education exports, now worth $21.8 billion to Australia, we shouldn’t end funding for infrastructure that contributes to Australia’s reputation as a world-leading education provider. 

“As MPs and Senators start the year, we understand the Budget is a key concern. It makes no sense to close down programs that generate wealth for Australia,” Ms Robinson said.

Capital investment by all universities will be very substantially curtailed if we lose EIF funding – and those with few alternative funding sources will be particularly hard hit. 

“These assets deliver education and training opportunities for communities across Australia to not just survive, but thrive, in the face of huge changes to the economy.”

University leaders have pointed to key facilities that would not exist without EIF funding. 

Federation University’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Smith said EIF was essential to build its $28 million Manufacturing and Engineering Skills Centre and $45 million Science and Engineering Buildings. 

These facilities were “a testimony to the success and worthiness of the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund,” he said. 

“These buildings provide our students with world class facilities and lead to job-ready graduates.”

The funding for the Manufacturing and Engineering Skills centre in particular “has been invaluable for the promotion of skills-based training in Western Victoria.” 

“We appreciate the funding and support provided for this inspirational building by the former and current Federal Governments.”

The University of South Australia’s new Mount Gambier Learning Centre was funded through EIF.

It’s part of the Regional Connections project to revolutionise student learning and enhance access to higher education for regional students.

Charles Darwin University set up the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education and the Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory with support from a $30.7 million EIF grant. 

This included mobile adult learning units and culturally appropriate accommodation to support training in regional and remote communities including in the Central Desert region.

A $40 million EIF grant helped Western Sydney University to set up the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment climate change research facilities.

And a $45 million EIF grant for the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies enabled a tripling in size at this world leading facility with new staff and PhD students.

An investment of $75 million from EIF helped create the Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Centre. 

CQUniversity’s Professor Scott Bowman said EIF had also been fundamental to the creation of Queensland’s first dual sector university – now the higher education and vocational training hub for central Queensland.

“The Education Investment Fund was not just about new buildings for the university; it was about providing cutting-edge facilities for the community,” Professor Bowman said. 

“The fund meant we could build the $18 million Rockhampton Health Clinic. Before we had the clinic it was hard to retain local health workers here and there was a waiting list of at least three years for some treatments.”

“Now there’s no waiting list and the people we’ve trained are able to stay in Rockhampton, improving health care in the region,” he said.

“That’s why the loss of this fund would be such a great shame for regional communities. Without it, we simply won’t have the kind of cutting-edge teaching facilities we need for the future.”

The Education Investment Fund has funded many transformative education and research projects across Australia. Find a list here.