InvereskBy TOM O’MEARA

A revolutionary concept to revamp education and business in Launceston and create a new $200 million University of Tasmania campus close to the Launceston CBD is now gaining momentum with the broader community and all political parties.

New multi-storey buildings at Inveresk and nearby sites linked by a footbridge over the North Esk River are the visible structures to transform Launceston into a university city.

The state of the art campus will transform education not only for the betterment of Tasmanian students, but by creating unique faculties of excellence it will attract students from interstate and the lucrative international student market.

The campus, built to create a true university ambience with new courses and the introduction of three-year associate degrees, has the potential to attract an additional 10,000 students. A business formula shows that an additional 1000 interstate and international students would inject more than $30 million annually into the region.

The estimated figures are much higher, in the 4000 range.

This doesn’t include the massive tourism flow-on effect coming from students’ families and friends who are attracted to Launceston and surrounds. On current figures, 1000 international students would attract 4000 visitors to the region each year.

Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Michael Bailey said the TCCI was strongly supportive of the project which was a potential game changer for Launceston and the state.

“It will be a major part of Tasmania’s education reform, with UTAS providing new courses to meet workforce needs identified by business and transforming Launceston into a university city with the prestige and tourism appeal to attract visitors and create hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs,” Mr Bailey said.

The alternative – to stay at Newnham and spend $350 million to bring Newnham up to standard, despite its inability to attract new students – doesn’t add up, according to acting vice-chancellor, Professor Mike Calford.

Enrollments at the Newnham campus had been dropping 5 per cent each year, with international students sitting at 5 per cent of the student population, compared with modelling that suggests 26 per cent at Inveresk.

The UTAS concept plan, with strong support from state government and federal government members from both houses, has the potential to revitalise the northern economy.

The region is already showing improved levels of confidence in the latest TCCI’s Business Expectations research.

There is a stream of positive economic indicators, which have helped lift confidence levels in Tasmania, including:

  • contracts and agreements with Chinese business following a recent trade mission to China
  • the opportunities for Tasmanian exporters to be more competitive, by maximising opportunities created by the $50 million extension of the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme, highlighted at a TCCI-Tasrail Forum
  • tourism leader Federal Group’s Saffire Freycinet being voted Best Deluxe Accommodation in the nation by the Australian Hotel Association, which follows last year’s recognition as the world’s best boutique hotel.

The UTAS project is now open for public consultation, after almost 12 months of discussions with MOU partners, state government, TasTAFE and Launceston City Council.

A significant agreement between UTAS and the state government means that no degrees or courses now offered at the northern campus will be cut or reduced, and any new courses to begin in 2017 will meet the workforce needs of the state.

TasTAFE has already acknowledged that the development proposal and partnership with UTAS would increase education and training opportunities in the northern region.

UTAS also supports the expansion of education in the north by offering shorter, cheaper, job-oriented programs.

But suggestions that the relocation was an opportunity to downgrade the new campus have been dismissed by UTAS, with vice chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen emphasising that not only will there be new courses in allied health, aged care, smart manufacturing and agriculture, with a new Home at Inveresk for the HIT Lab, research at the new campus would remain a priority.

Construction of two buildings at Inveresk on a 36,000 square metre floor space and over the North Esk in a significant site in Willis St is estimated to create 500 jobs.

Revamping the current School of Architecture and Design and the Tasmanian College of Arts will also create additional construction jobs.

More than 200 people attended at the first of the consultation meetings in Launceston, where questions were answered by Treasurer Peter Gutwein, Professor Mike Calford and deputy mayor Rob Soward.