Body Blow: Deakin Warrnambool Campus Closure

I used to scare my lecturers, by telling them I would like to chain myself to something in protest at least once in my life. I just didn’t expect it might be to the actual university itself.!

Deakin University Signage. Picture by J. Fawcett
Deakin University Signage. Picture by J. Fawcett

As an about-to-be graduate and with three children at university I am utterly horrified at the news Deakin University aims to sell or close it’s Warrnambool campus.

I am only able to write this because Deakin had a campus in Warrnambool that supports full-time carers through a study course. My husband is only alive  today thanks to a Deakin-trained  surgeon and my children are getting an education and gaining hope for their future because of Deakin University.

Half a dozen of my nieces and nephews have graduated from Deakin,  half a dozen more have commenced or nearly completed study, and I have lost count of how many of my 80-something cousins that graduated from Deakin, all who work and contribute to their community whether here in the great south-west or at a national or international level.

Closing Deakin University at Warrnambool doesn’t just rip the heart out of a local community, it will take away hope and opportunity for rural and regional families. 

Warrnambool newspaper THE STANDARD has launched its CALL TO ARMS CAMPAIGN calling upon locals to support the retention of a university at Warrnambool

Bank-managers, accountants, business advisers, councilors,  civic leaders, business leaders, service providers, healthcare and childcare and education providers as well as your kid’s swim and gym instructors, animal carers, wildlife and marine rangers, these all usually university trained or operate in a network under the umbrella of an tertiary provider like Deakin.

Teachers especially, like Labor candidate Michael Barling know how crucial a university is to Warrnambool’s community.

I had to  wait over half a century for the opportunity to obtain a university degree, because as a truck-drivers daughter, as a rural female, and a member of a large family there were few opportunities to study when I left high school.

When  I did go to uni,  I went because of its proximity, because my mother went even though she had eight children to provide for, because my sister went and I wanted to be brainy like her  but mostly I went because of the encouragement of our local TAFE, who figured it was time for me to move up the education ladder.

 Deakin University  is part of a much bigger picture with extrapolated network links to community.

It operates within established communal networks and if it closes its doors the impact will devastate the opportunities and incomes and social connections of  local and regional community.

What if Deakin closes it Warrnambool doors?

Was there any point to my studying?

What was the point in my encouraging my children to stay and attend university here locally, when they barely get a foot in the door and Deakin plans to slam it shut in their face?

Local students have organised a petition #StandByWarrnambool asking Deakin to continue its presence in Warrnambool with some 2500 signatures in just a couple of days.

What happens to the units of study they have completed? Are they transferrable to another university, will they be recognised?

Will their entire degree of study be recognised by another university?

How stressed are the poor students?

Units of study are network-linked, break the chain and students can be left floundering.

Change brings confusion, uncertaintity and fear.

And there are  personal costs.What pleasure can there be in my claiming to be a Deakin graduate, when the university turns it back on country people?

Who is going to employ a graduate from a university that couldn’t even sustain itself?

And why CAN’T  Deakin sustain its Warrnambool campus, when there has been so much infrastructure development at its other campus’.

There are rumours that La Trobe University is in talks to take over Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, but hell, one of my lads went there last year and three quarters way through the year La Trobe turned around and admitted the course wasn’t even accredited, and that would be no longer offering that course.

Think about that. Engineering course, you wouldn’t think it would get more respectable than that. But no – twelve months down the drain. Think about the financial costs, the time spent, the loss of study advantage and the loss of trust.

Can a take-over university be trusted?

Wannon MP Dan Tehan has joined the fight to keep the Deakin campus at Warrnambool

“I have asked to meet with the vice chancellor next week for a full explanation. What I will be asking for is full transparency because everyone in the community was in the dark on this and that is not good enough.”

 

Commerce Warrnambool has also joined the fray and MP Roma Britnell thinks its a good chance for agriculture to become a drawcard for the local community but personally I think country people are bit more deserving than that, and entitled to all the options that city folk have.

“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” Ms Britness said, according to the Warrnambool Standard..

“There’s a massive opportunity there” Ms Britnell said, and as a the  south-west was the heartland of the dairy industry “What have we got to show for it at uni level?”.

Barry Baker, the former CEO of SouthwestTAFE says Deakin has taken the wrong approach to develop its Warrnambool Campus.

“The university should be looking to develop specialty programs to not only provide for local people, but attract people from across the state and beyond,” Mr Baker said, according to the Warrnambool Standard.

 “The the campus had lost ground over the past decade by becoming a ‘generalist university’.

“The university has depended largely on local support for enrolments, hoping they feel obliged to stay in the area,” he said.

“That works well for a group of people who may not be financially able to go to Melbourne. But the reality is, some students, who can afford to, want to try a different lifestyle. “

What happens to community if Deakin closes it Warrnambool Campus?

What happens to all the landlords who depend on the annual influx of students, and real estate agency and taxis and bus-lines.

What about employers who lose a casual work-force, as well as the income that university campus’s represent.

What about the wholesalers, retailers and shops and supermarkets.

And what about the hospital and businesses that offer internships and grow their succession plans through local student pools.

Close this university campus and Deakin will be ripping the heart of our this community.

Great South West Coast chairman Colin Ryan has called for Federal Intervention to retain a university in Warrnambool.

“If we lose the university campus, we not only lose about 100 jobs and around $50 million from our regional economy – our young people will lost the option to study close to home.

“We will lose even more young people as they leave to study elsewhere.”(Chairman Colin Ryan quoted in the Warrnambool Standard).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that uni students work bloody hard to get their degree.

Students  spend on average a 50 hour week studying if they do four units per trimester, and on top of that they have to find employment to sustain themselves.

There is no lounging round on green fields smoking hoochy coochy  and living the 60’s free love hippy life-style.

It is hard work, students have to be really disciplined, organised and dedicated. And that’s even before they start writing assignments, hold down employment, pay  bills and rent and undertake volunteer projects or internships.

I spent four years with students of all ages and everyone of them has their own story about why they came to Deakin Warrnambool.

Kids who couldn’t afford a city education, kids from the width and breadth of Victoria from the Murray to the South Australia Border and from far Gippsland and kids from overseas.

They usually left relatives or family in the city and came to Warrnambool because that was the most affordable option or because cities are overwhelming and the competition tough in city campus.

Homesickness was rife, kids often felt lost, disconnected, and overwhelmed about even how to manage for and by themselves.

All the students I knew lived on next to nothing, they regularly went without food, where often socially isolated,  as they were without transport or lived on the fringe of town because of cheaper rents, and they were 24/7 stressed about money, accommodation and study.

But one thing Deakin in Warrnambool does well is that it has experienced, caring and dedicated educators, and I have seen and benefitted that for myself first hand.

They are consummate professionals, work extra-onerous hours, represent their university especially at local community level as well as official events and actively generate new networks within community.

Closing Deakin must be a solid body blow for these people who have dedicated themselves as educators.

 

 

I had to wait till I was more than half a century old to attend university, mostly because there was not the opportunity back then for the sons and daughters of working-class and agriculturalists.

I left school at 16 and went to work like so many others from Warrnambool and surrounds, which is primarily an agricultural centre in Victoria’s south western district.

My parents left school at 14 and went to work because education was not an option for them either.

And their parents before them had an education only because their community leaders, their civic leaders had the foresight to plan, unite, fight and lobby for the right of kids in and around Warrnambool to have an education. 

LEND YOUR VOICE.   

*StandByWarrnambool Campaign

People can lend their support to government and civic leaders  by accompanying them to a meeting in Warrnambool on Friday night at the Warrnambool Lighthouse Theatre. 

  • Sign the PETITION 
  • Attend the MEETING
  • Use MESSAGE BOARD  to lend your voice, or add your story
  • Go Viral on Twitter with hashtag   *standbyWarrnambool
  • Share your story

 

NewsLinks

DEAKINS FUTURE UNCERTAIN  (Jarrod Woolley @ Warrnambool Stanard, 11 Mar.2016).

 

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