My heart sank a little when I saw this story in the Northern Daily Leader: Time to get smart in Tamworth. The story begins:
TAMWORTH could boast a more visible university presence in the near future and it could be coming from Bathurst, not Armidale.
Tamworth Regional Council has unanimously, and excitedly, supported a nomination from Charles Sturt University (CSU) to act as the university partner on a funding application to establish a multi-
sector education precinct in the city.
The precinct would be established adjacent to the New England Institute of Technical and Further Education’s Tamworth campus.
The endorsement of the proposal was made on Tuesday night and involves seeking approval for a federal government Education Infrastructure Fund grant.
Why did my heart sink? Well for many reasons.
Tamworth has wanted its own campus for a long time. Even though UNE has provided local facilities over a long period, it hasn't really moved to meet Tamworth needs. Now Charles Sturt is trying to step in as part of a continuing and aggressive expansion campaign.
I do not begrudge either Tamworth or CSU for trying to move forward. Instead, I have two primary concerns that I have explored on this blog before.
The first is simply loss of vision by UNE. During the 1970s and 1980s the University lost its original university vision, its regional role across the broader New England. Its regional vision shrank to New England Tablelands, North West. For that reason, there is a certain irony in the CSU move, for it strikes at the heart of UNE's diminished regional role.
I do not want to overstate this, for UNE's broader regional role has begun to come back because no one else is doing it. Many of us have also been trying to force the University to stand outside the pressures created by Canberra dictates, what we can call university games, and instead reinstate its previous broader regional focus. This is not the University's only role, but it is central its role.
If UNE doesn't do it, no one will will. Certainly CSU won't.
The second thing that I have written about is the fragmentation in New England.
The Australian Government talks about the role of Universities in pursuing Australia's interests. The NSW Government sometimes talks about the role of NSW universities in developing NSW. No one talks about the role of New England's universities in pursuing New England's interests.
New England is not the same as NSW beyond an accident of political geography. Our universities are not just big businesses, but critical contributors to New England social and community development. We need them to cooperate if New England is to advance.
I stand to be corrected, but I don't think that CSU's move will help. The new Tamworth campus will remain a small outrider, an add-on, a branch office. It is likely to become just another contributor to New England's continuing fragmentation.