Pilbara Universities Centre gets the green light

Pilbara News
Members of the PUC advisory committee with Durack MHR Melissa Price, centre.
Camera IconMembers of the PUC advisory committee with Durack MHR Melissa Price, centre. Credit: Facebook

Residents will be able to stay in the Pilbara while studying university courses and receive wrap-around educational support from as early as mid-2019 after a “game-changing” universities centre model for the region was awarded critical funding last week.

Funding of $3 million from the Federal Government will allow the establishment of the Pilbara Universities Centre — a supported distance education service providing local tutorials and administrative and pastoral support for students taking courses with partner universities — which will have its headquarters based in Karratha and a study hub in Port Hedland.

It will make the Pilbara only the second country region in WA to have such a centre, after the Mid West, and opens the door to the possible creation of a Pilbara School of Mines in the future.

PUC project co-ordinating consultant Brendan Penzer said the funding had been critical for the tertiary education project to go ahead in full.

“It’s really exciting, because it means the project will be a reality now,” he said.

“There’s still some work to do to get it to the starting line, but this is the first major hurdle in making it become a reality.”

PUC advisory committee chairwoman and Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Kylah Morrison said the centre would improve access to higher education in the region, benefiting residents and industry.

“Offering a tertiary education centre is going to further improve the schooling services that are offered in the Pilbara and encourage more families to consider staying in the (region) for longer, and assist those people residing here to study without having to leave work or family if they don’t want to,” she said.

“The other longer-term benefit is we become a centre of excellence for the resource sector, not just helping current residents to stay, but ideally attracting people.

“Nowhere in the world do we have so much industry on the doorstep of a tertiary education centre. so that’s a great vision for the university, and potentially down the track there might be a School of Mines.”

The facility is expected to open with a small number of students in Semester 2 next year, before the first full cohort starts in Semester 1, 2020.

Courses will include nursing, early childhood and primary teaching, engineering, business, and social services such as social work and psychology, and CQUniversity, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and the University of Southern Queensland are in talks to be potential partner universities.

Locations being considered for the Karratha campus include the Karratha Quarter and the under-development Karratha Enterprise Hub, while the Hedland study hub will likely be at the Web Business Hub.

A process to recruit staff, including a manager, hub co-ordinator and student services officer, is expected to start in the next few months.

Other work to be done includes confirming partner universities, industry and community partners and securing further funding to fit out the chosen building. Durack MHR Melissa Price said she hoped the centre would lead to education becoming “an industry of its own” in the Pilbara, especially if it prompted the creation of a Pilbara School of Mines.

“We’re talking about young people being able to get an education, but not just that, we’re talking about it being an industry so we’re going to attract people from other parts of Australia and the world to come and get their university education here,” she said.

“There’s no reason why we can’t (have a school of mines) — we’ve got all of the right ingredients here.”

The PUC is based on the model of the Geraldton Universities Centre, whose staff proposed the idea in 2016 .

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