Proposals 'help unlock full potential in regional areas'

BONUS points towards Australian residency could be offered to encourage international students to study at regional universities, under a Regional Universities Network policy plan released on Wednesday.

The policy, which calls for a new national strategy to recognise the importance of the regional university sector, also recommends incentives to attract students away from the cities to regional study.

Network chair Professor David Battersby launched the Smarter Regions - Smarter Australia policy, saying the proposals would help unlock the full human potential in Australia's regional areas.

"By improving opportunities for people to access higher education, RUN universities already help unlock this human potential," he said.

"Adopting the policies we've articulated would contribute to Australia achieving the level of graduate skills needed to ensure its international competitiveness and help strengthen communities across the nation."

Proposals include the creation of new regional university scholarships, regional accommodation support under HECS-HELP loans and dedicated scholarships for indigenous students.

It also seeks to allow international students to stay an extra year in Australia if they study at regional universities, as well as a two-way student exchange with Asia-Pacific universities, similar to the former Colombo Plan.

Prof Battersby said the new policy built on similar themes raised in the Universities Australia plan, A Smarter Australia, but focussed on the role that regional universities could play.

"We believe that this nation needs to have a conversation about the role of higher education and we want to play our part in this," he said.

The plan also proposed the creation of a formal link between regional high schools and universities to help improve Year 12 completion rates outside of the major cities, as well as more support to help students in regional areas to study online.

There are six member universities of the RUN, including CQUniversity, Sunshine Coast University, Southern Cross University, University of Southern Queensland, University of New England and University of Ballarat.

In total, the network teaches more than 100,000 students in 29 campuses, equating to 25% of Australia's regional higher education students and 34% of the nation's distance education students. The regional university sector contributed $2.1 billion to gross domestic product in 2011.

To view the full plan, go to the Regional Universities Network website

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