Young at Heart: Kids are what really matters

WHEN the treasurer Joe Hockey can only gaze at the fiscal bottom line of an economic statement and draw a red biro through monies allocated to universities, and the universities are struggling to match staff and student numbers to their fiscal bottom line, there is one cohort out of all this who will suffer the most... the students.

Undoubtedly there is a huge fallout from the loss of academics from the city if as many as 60 lecturers’ positions are axed at La Trobe University Bendigo, and there is mass fallout from the support staff, mentioned as being as many as 110 positions. The various disciplines at the university cannot run as effectively and rigorously without their staff and support staff. That is a given.

Important research will be terminated. The intellectual property that is lost from a regional city like Bendigo becomes very challenging as the university touches so many sections of the local community in education, industry, technology and health. That is nothing short of tragic in a regional city such as Bendigo where these disciplines are so well connected to the community.

Families from both staff and support staff may have to leave Bendigo to find work elsewhere. Uprooting families is traumatic for everyone concerned.

With all the rumblings that are now echoing around Bendigo, we sometimes lose sight of the reason the university exists.... the students. 

I remember the “best boss I ever had” who was the head of the School of Education during my period of employment at the La Trobe University Bendigo campus, Brian Geary. His commitment to his students was absolute.

Brian had a wonderful motto that he never hesitated to use when defending a student who needed help. His motto was “It’s kids what count” and that was the motto by which he lived his own life, both as an academic and as a father of 11 children. With his wife Tess they mentored and nurtured an unknown number of other young people “at risk” over many years in their own home. Brian encouraged lecturers to give students time and support. There are many teachers today who will be forever grateful for his influence and his passion.

In all the sound and fury of what is happening to our universities today, in Bendigo we should focus on giving rural and regional students the opportunity for tertiary education that is the equal of anything the big cities can offer. 

Students in this region must not miss out on the wonderful courses that La Trobe  offers here in Bendigo, and please don’t even mention the words “online courses”. They are weasel words. The reality is that they do not offer anything like the same degree of quality either intellectually or socially for students as good old-fashioned face-to-face lecturing and tutoring.

 Part of the experience of a university for young people is learning to live, study and survive in a university atmosphere. It is about so much more than intellectual rigour. It is about the “whole university experience”.

Affording a tertiary education can be beyond the capacity of rural and regional families, which is where the regional centres of excellence like Bendigo come into their own. Students can remain at home or live much more cheaply than their counterparts who choose to go to Melbourne.

For mature age and returning-to- university students, the online courses fit the bill, but for the young student straight from school there is a strong impetus to study on campus with all that encompasses. 

We must fight to retain our university and all its courses.

Remember, “It’s kids what count”.

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