A professional forum organised by Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has highlighted the capacity that community colleges can play in meeting New South Wales regional economic development challenges.
The Hon Ben Franklin MLC, Parliamentary Secretary for Northern New South Wales – representing the Deputy Premier of NSW, the Hon John Barilaro MP, opened the Forum, saying that, “Community colleges are key to activating economic potential and creating a regional skilled workforce.”
Community colleges “play an extremely important role in our regional communities. They are run by dedicated providers who are leaders for their communities, and do not shy away from a challenge,” Mr Franklin said.
Mr Franklin noted that some NSW community colleges – such as WEA Hunter, which attended the Forum – have been active for more than 100 years. “Community Colleges have helped thousands of disadvantaged, regional and remote learners get the education they need to join the workforce and support themselves,” Mr Franklin said.
The Forum was held at the ecologically sustainable headquarters of Byron Community College in Mullumbimby, north of Byron Bay NSW. The State Member for Ballina (and Greens NSW spokesperson for regional development), Tamara Smith, welcomed attendees to her electorate, saying that, “I see the goal of achieving economic sustainability for our region as a top priority. We need the kind of partnerships being explored by the community colleges with local businesses because those collaborations have the potential to generate new industries and jobs that in turn bring export dollars into our regional economies.“
In his presentation, CCA CEO Dr Don Perlgut spoke of how community colleges helped to overcome Australia’s “tyranny of distance”, the importance of vocational education and training (VET) in regional areas, and how not-for-profit NSW community VET providers over-perform in delivering to regional and rural areas and to disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous Australians and people with a disability.
Other speakers at the Forum included CEO of Byron Community College, Richard Vinycomb; Rowan Cox, WEA Hunter; Kerry Johnson, ACE Community Colleges, Lismore; Fiona Sheridan, Sourdough Business Pathways and Wendy Perry, national VET regional development expert. Other NSW community colleges represented included Tamworth, North Coast (Alstonville), Central Coast, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
A number of other organisations participated in the Forum, including Regional Development Australia, TAFE NSW, Southern Cross University, University of New England and private media training provider SAE Institute.
“Community Colleges Australia is preparing a comprehensive report for the NSW Department of Industry on our research and consultations,” Dr Perlgut said. “This report will include positive models for how the community education sector is able to increase its contribution to NSW regional and rural economic development.”