SUBJECTS: University of Wollongong, Australian Research Council, Digital Child node, Molecular Horizons.
ALISON BYRNES [MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM]: It is so great to be here with the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm, who's come down from Queensland so we can showcase the fabulous work that our local university is doing here. And the Albanese Labor government really supports the work that our local university does. In my very first election campaign I secured $10 million for an Energy Futures Skills Centre and over the past five years the university has been able to attract $71 million worth of funding from the Australian Research Council to do some of the fabulous things that we've seen here today with the Digital Child node, which is looking at children from nought to eight and how they interact with the digital world, which is really important in this day and age. We also saw the Molecular Horizons centre, which is doing some really important work around looking for cures for cancer, looking at Alzheimer's disease and also antibiotic research as well. So, there are some fabulous stories out of our local university. And I talk about the university a lot while I'm down in Canberra, particularly with my colleague Senator Chisholm, and it's great to have him here today to showcase the work that the university is doing and show him what the university is doing with Australian Research Council funding.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Thanks, Alison. It's great to be here and I really appreciate the work that you do as the local member, but also as a passionate advocate for the region and for this university. And it was at a meeting we had in Canberra with the university a couple of months ago where I said I was keen to come down, so it's good to finally make that happen, but also for the university to make time for us to talk about what they do. And the thing I really love about this university is how embedded they are in the community, and I think that their research and effort really reflects that they’re one with their community as well. I think about the priorities of the Federal Government and the work that this university is doing is going to be vital to those priorities. So, the work that we're doing in early childhood and going through that centre today, the Digital Child ARC research centre, it’s absolutely phenomenal the work that they are doing, the passionate researchers and educators that are involved in that, it was a real eye‑opener for me. It was fantastic to see so many young children at a university campus, but also the benefit they're providing to researchers around the state, around the country, it’s phenomenal. And then the molecular centre here, it absolutely blew my mind in terms of the work they’re doing. The researchers were so passionate, but again, it's focused on things that are going to make a real difference, not only their work in diseases and DNA, but also their relationships and commercialisation opportunities, they’re exactly the types of things that the Federal Government wants to see universities take advantage of. It's a really important time for universities. We've been going through the Accord process, that is coming to its final conclusions. But this university, I think, is really reflective of the Federal Government's intentions when it comes to higher education: a research focus, which is phenomenal, and Alison mentioned how successful they've been with their ARC grants over recent years, but the other thing is that 43 per cent of graduates at this university are first‑in‑family. So, when we're the Federal Government and we want to see more access and more opportunity for people, there's a lot we can learn from the University of Wollongong in providing that opportunity for people from different backgrounds to get a quality education. So, I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. And I really am confident that with Alison as the Federal Member and the ambitions of the Federal Government, that we will be working closely with the University of Wollongong post the Accord process to ensure we have a really vibrant university in this region for many decades to come. Happy to take questions for Alison or myself.
JOURNALIST: Could you tell us what the aim of the ARC is?
CHISHOLM: So, the aim of the ARC is to support universities’ research efforts and it really is one that we have had a review from the Federal Government in looking at what the ARC do, but we want to ensure that universities are building and creating opportunities. And I think that's a great example of what we're seeing here in the early childhood space because it is such an important area for the government to focus on, but we also know that if we don't get those early childhood years right and a child falls behind, they're less likely to catch up. So, I think there's going to be a great opportunity for that centre to influence government policy over the next year as we make significant changes in the early childhood space. We've already invested significantly already, but I think that in the next 12 months, we'll see a lot of more emphasis from the government in that space.
JOURNALIST: So, early childhood is one topic. Any other topics that the ARC is interested in investing in?
CHISHOLM: Yes, the ARC obviously make independent decisions of government, but it's one that Minister Clare as the senior minister, has been well across. The ARC continue to ensure that universities in Australia are at the cutting edge of research. We want to ensure that those opportunities continue right across the country but particularly, I think, in regional universities like the University of Wollongong that has such a great track record, I think it's exciting that this can be a world-leading research university based in Wollongong in regional Australia is fantastic.
JOURNALIST: So, what are some of the outcomes that we're seeing through these investments?
CHISHOLM: I think one of the exciting things is the commercialisation opportunities when you look at what they're doing here in molecular science. There's so many things that we've learnt from COVID and the university here are really at the cutting edge of working with businesses but ensuring that we can get the commercialisation opportunities right so we can ensure that we’re creating world-leading health services at the same time. It is a really exciting opportunity.
JOURNALIST: Just back to that Accord process, was it –
CHISHOLM: Accord process.
JOURNALIST: – with the universities? Can you explain that a little bit more and where UoW sits in that?
CHISHOLM: Yes. So, the Universities Accord process is one that was set when we came to government. It is basically working with the sector and also professionals, led by the government, to ensure that we can set up universities not only for the next decade, but for generations to come. So, we want to have a genuine partnership with universities where we are providing more people with the opportunity to study, but we also know that we have critical shortages in many areas at the moment, early childhood, teaching, nursing, et cetera, and I know that the University of Wollongong will be a really key partner to that. It's also about ensuring that we give as many people as possible the opportunity to study. And the University of Wollongong are some of the best in Australia at getting people from different backgrounds and that 43 per cent figure I mentioned of first‑in‑family, that's a phenomenal achievement, but we also know that if you study in a regional area, you're more likely to stay and work there. So, when you think about the challenges we've got in the workforce in teaching and nursing, the University of Wollongong can be a great partner to deliver more nurses and more teachers into regional Australia, and that will benefit the whole country.
JOURNALIST: So you mentioned that COVID had an effect on universities. Do you know what the international student-to-national student ratio is at this point?
CHISHOLM: We were actually just talking about that as we went around with Professor Currow and the great thing about the University of Wollongong is that they're back to numbers they had pre‑COVID of international students. There's a different mix, but we know that that makes up the multicultural community that is Wollongong itself. So, it is great to see that we have got those students coming back and they're studying in a wide array of fields. I'm confident that they're getting a good experience here and they're contributing to the economy as well. But when they go back to their communities, I'm sure they will be passionate advocates for how great an area it is to study here. Thanks everyone.