La Trobe University says it was blindsided by a recent federal education funding reallocation which could threaten research projects at its Bendigo campus.
Federal education minister Dan Tehan this week announced a $134 million cash boost to regional campuses across Australia, none of which has been allocated to La Trobe University.
The funds will be redirected from the Research Support Program, which funds researchers' salaries, libraries and laboratories.
La Trobe University pro vice-chancellor regional Richard Speed said the university had an allocation of $13 million for research funding under the program, but it was currently unclear how much of that would be taken away under the changes.
The university’s Bendigo campus offers research opportunities in Education, Health, Information Technology, Planning and Visual Arts.
“We’re frustrated because we didn't know it was coming and we didn't have a chance to put a case forward,” Mr Speed said.
“We have proposals which, if the federal government would care to consider them, we think would produce good outcomes for Northern Victoria.”
The bulk of the $134 million has been allocated to five regionally-focused universities over four years.
Federation University Australia's Berwick campus – $40.7 million – is the only regional Victorian beneficiary, with other funds bound for Queensland and New South Wales universities.
“It’s disappointing to us that none of this money is coming to Northern Victoria,” Mr Speed said.
“If he (minister Tehan) is going to move it around, we'd like him to move it to Bendigo.”
Professor Speed said the changes, combined with an existing federal government university funding freeze which ended the demand-driven model introduced in 2011 that uncapped university places, was a poor outcome for regional students.
“We're hoping to grow, we have plans to grow Bendigo to the tune of 500-600 overall students, but we’re capped in that growth,” Mr Speed said.
The funding model allowed universities to offer places in response to student demand, rather than have a set number of places for various courses. Universities are now pegged at 2017 student numbers.
The freeze saves the federal budget $2.2 billion
There are also concerns the freeze, which came into effect just before Christmas last year, will leave La Trobe University unable to properly fill its under-construction $50 million Bendigo engineering building with students.
Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner earlier this year said uncapping university places had seen a 48 per cent increase in regional and rural enrolments, and an 89 per cent in Indigenous enrolments.
In the Loddon-Campaspe region, about 24 per cent of people have university degrees compared with over 50 per cent in metropolitan Melbourne.
Labor plans to reverse the cuts if it wins the federal election later this year.
Mr Tehan defended the government's decision to raid the research coffers in the face of stinging criticism from some of the major universities who rely on research funding.
He described the move as a "small re-allocation within the $17 billion higher education budget", telling Fairfax Media it would help give regional students the same opportunities as their capital city counterparts.
The growing gap between higher education participation rates in regional and metropolitan areas was highlighted in census data released last year, which showed a 2.4 per cent increase in university or tertiary attendance in Bendigo over the past five years.
Conversely, across Victoria the uptake in post secondary or university courses from 2011-2016 was 31.8 per cent, while Australia-wide figures were 24.5 per cent.
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