'Regional universities should focus on being different'
COINCIDING with Southern Cross University celebrating 25 years of operation, the university has welcomed a visit from former founding vice chancellor Professor Barry Conyngham.
Professor Conyngham was present at the university's graduation ceremony on Friday, where he gave a speech to graduates.
Professor Conyngham was vice chancellor at SCU from 1994 to 2000, and said he was pleased to see the university had expanded, in both facilities and course offerings, since his departure.
"It was a very exciting time for us all when (SCU) came into existence 25 years ago,” he said.
"I remember the sense of creating something new, young, adventurous and imaginative that responded to the local culture, geographical location and regional traditions of the Northern Rivers.”
Professor Conyngham said when the university opened in 1994, it led the sector with innovative and in-demand courses like tourism, coastal management, popular music and medical crops.
Now serving as Dean of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne, Professor Conyngham said Australian universities are "too similar”, lacking innovation to make them more compelling to prospective students.
"All universities are trying to be all things to all people,” he said.
"Australia needs diversity in its universities. There needs to be fresh new courses and innovation in teaching methods.”
He said, as an example, SCU had been the first university to accept tourism both as a degree and a profession, something which had been different and enticed students to the university, but was now widely offered across the country.
"When regional universities are competing against larger, metropolitan institutions, there needs to be some kind of special feature or innovation to draw students out into the regions,” he said.
"Whether that is economic, such as affordability, or perhaps offering courses which no-one else has, regional universities should try to focus on proactively being different to the sandstones and metros.”
Professor Conyngham said more research programs would benefit regional universities, such as SCU's new national flood research centre which launched last year.