The City of Victor Harbor has allocated $10,000 in the 2020/21 Budget to support the development of a Business Case for a South Coast Regional Study Hub in conjunction with Alexandrina Council, District Council of Yankalilla and Regional Development Australia.
The City of Victor Harbor has been working with Regional Development Australia - Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island to investigate the possibility of establishing a Hub in Victor Harbor.
The idea of a Regional Study Hub gained traction following strong advocacy from City of Victor Harbor CEO Victoria MacKirdy, who identified there was a significant gap in the region when it came to higher education facilities and attracted state-wide media attention.
Regional Study Hubs provide infrastructure such as study spaces, video conferencing, computing facilities and internet access, as well as academic support for students studying via distance.
Ms MacKirdy said there were a number of potential locations right across the region where a Study Hub could be established.
"In Victor Harbor some locations that have been pin-pointed for further investigation and discussion with stakeholders include the TAFE Campus, Flinders Rural Health Campus or possibly somewhere in the town centre," Ms MacKirdy said.
"The City of Victor Harbor has committed funds to the development of a business case to identify the best model for our region and assist with funding applications.
"The Australian Government has made a significant commitment to invest in the development of Regional Study Hubs and the City of Victor Harbor wants to capitalise on this to see a facility developed to support our community and the Fleurieu region."
"We are working with the RDA and have the support of Yankalilla and Alexandrina councils."
The Australian Government's Regional University Centres program, initially funded as part of the 2018-19 Federal Budget, was increased in 2018 to a total of $24.2 million to support the establishment and operation of 16 community owned study centres across 23 regional locations.
Funding was increased again in 2019 by $15 million to establish an additional five study centres as part of the Australian Government's Plan for Regional Australia.
In November 2018 there were 16 successful Regional University Centre recipients which included three from South Australia. This resulted in the establishment of five study centres in Murray Bridge, Berri, Nuripoota, Port Augusta and Port Pirie.
Ms MacKirdy said Victor Harbor and surrounding regions lacked the facilities and opportunities to retain school leavers or attract career developers.
"This presents a significant barrier to enterprise growth and population retention across the region. The draft City of Victor Harbor Economic Strategy 2020-2024 recognises the positioning of Victor Harbor as an destination of choice to live and work for people in their career phase of life as a key ingredient in the region's economic success," Ms MacKirdy said.
"An identified action detailed in this draft Strategy is to 'Pursue the establishment of a Regional Study Hub to support access to world-leading tertiary education delivering in Victor Harbor'. As well as attracting people to Victor Harbor the creation of a regional 'study hub' would support the local community by reducing impediments such as financial, social and accessibility for those wishing to pursue a tertiary education.
"The resulting increase in tertiary education participation and the growth of local knowledge and skill sets will meet the demands of local industry and employers by giving them access to a skilled and qualified workforce."
The council's annual Victor Harbor Business Survey showed concerns around the lack of training opportunities locally for youth.
"Responses have highlighted the under utilisation of the local TAFE campus leading to students having to travel outside of the region for training," Ms MacKirdy said.
"Representatives from the City of Victor Harbor, Alexandrina Council and the District Council Yankalilla have been working with Regional Development Australia (RDA) to investigate the opportunities of the establishment of regional study facilities that service the three council areas, by leveraging future rounds of the program.
"A number of key stakeholder meetings have also occurred which were attended by representatives from all three Council's, RDA, local secondary schools, TAFE SA, South Australian and interstate Universities and State and Federal Government Members - all of whom are supportive of this project progressing."
To progress the project the three councils and the RDA will each contribute $10,000 to cover the cost of engaging a consultant to develop a business case. This business case will ultimately form the basis of a funding application to the Federal Government.
The Federal Government have been funding regional study hubs for the past four years. It is unknown whether they will be releasing funding through this same grant program in 2020.
Given the COVID-19 response being provided by the Federal Government, a number of existing grant programs may be reduced or changed, with no commitment being made until the budget is released in October 2020.
City of Victor Harbor Mayor Moira Jenkins said a Regional Study Hub would benefit the entire south coast, not just Victor Harbor.
"It would assist in keeping our young people in the region and offer an alternative to travelling to university in Adelaide. Developing education as an industry in Victor Harbor is something I am passionate about and been lobbying since I was elected Mayor," Dr Jenkins said.
City of Victor Harbor elected members also supported the idea. Marilyn Henderson said Victor Harbor could have a new theme - 'Live, Play and Study'."
"This is a good investment in the future of our region. Universally, study hubs bring an economic boost to the regions and graduates often work in the region they studied," Cr Henderson said.
Cr Brayden Mann said it would need to be more interactive to work, as some preferred to study at home.
"We need to have this initiative paired with business enterprises," he said.
Cr David Kemp said it would be the injection Victor Harbor needed.
"It is a fantastic idea. It would get everybody back into study regardless of age. We could model the study hub on Ballarat. They come from all over the world to go there," Cr Kemp said.