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Agriculture could hold the key to lifting student numbers at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus, says MP Roma Britnell who has called on the community to get loud.
The South West Coast MP said the community needed to take a stand and use a loud voice to keep the university in Warrnambool.
“This is no political game. This is people’s lives,” she said.
Mrs Britnell said the south-west had shown that when it united behind a cause, such as the cancer centre, they could succeed.
On Friday, Deakin revealed it was looking at the future of the campus.
She said four years of discussions with the university as a representative of the dairy industry about the educational needs of the industry had come to nothing.
“There’s a massive opportunity there,” she said.
Ms Britnell said the south-west was the heartland of the dairy industry.
“What have we got to show for it at uni level?” she said.
Each year across Australia there were 800 jobs advertised for agricultural scientists, she said, and Deakin could capitalise on that.
She said when a food and fibre committee was formed four years ago, education was one challenge identified.
“We’ve been talking with Deakin all along,” she said. “We need educated farming managers.
“The news that Deakin University is looking at options for its campus in Warrnambool is disturbing.
“We have the right to education like the rest of the state.”
Mrs Britnell said given the region’s economy was based around agriculture, there was potential for Deakin to explore the idea.
She said she was concerned a potential change of provider could end similar to that of Glenormiston College, when Melbourne University took over and later walked away from its commitment.
She said the announcement’s timing couldn’t have been worse – just as programs aimed at lifting the region’s low year 12 retention rate and inspire students to go to uni had started.
“Youth from rural and regional Australia are already under-represented at our universities,” she said.
Mrs Britnell said the community needed to put pressure on the state government and called on the Minister for Training and Skills Steve Herbert to attend Friday’s public meeting at the Lighthouse Theatre from 6pm.
Labor candidate for Wannon Michael Barling pledged bi-partisan support and said Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford would attend the meeting.
Mrs Britnell said the government had the power and urged it to commit to the long journey and ensure a university remained in Warrnambool.
“The contribution of the university to our region is profound,” she said.