Report highlights economic, social benefits of universities

SIX of Australia's biggest regional universities are as important to the Australian economy as the Great Barrier Reef, new research shows.

The Regional Universities Network - comprising University of the Sunshine Coast , CQ University, University of Ballarat, University of New England, University of Southern Queensland and Southern Cross University - commissioned the study to examine the economic and social impact of its members on the Australian and regional economies.

It found the universities' main campuses contributed $2.1 billion to the nation's gross domestic product, $1.2 billion in household income and employed more than 14,000 people.

The study, carried out by RedeConsult, also found a large proportion of RUN's economic activity directly benefited the regions in which the campuses were located - $1.7 billion in gross regional product, $968 million in household income and more than 12,000 full-time jobs to the combined economies of the local government areas.

The contribution to the national economy was found to be greater than the impact at local government level because of money spent outside the LGAs and the associated flow-on effects.

RUN chair David Battersby said figures contained in the report were "conservative" because the researchers only examined the activity of the main campuses.

"The analysis did not include the impacts of various other campuses, overseas centres or any other operations of the universities including innovation parks or vocational education and training, or assessments of other benefits such as the universities' role in encouraging people in their regions to undertake higher education," Mr Battersby said.

The report highlighted the economic and social benefits universities brought to regional areas, Mr Battersby said.

He used the Great Barrier Reef and the nation's cotton industry to illustrate the economic significance of the institutions.

"Quite apart from the enormous direct economic benefits of the universities themselves, the study shows that graduates of regional universities largely embark on their careers in regional areas, boosting human capital, bolstering services and raising the average income levels," he said.

"The combined GDP and income figures of more than $3 billion are equal to all of the economic activity generated by the Great Barrier Reef each year ... (and) is also equivalent to the value of Australia's entire cotton crop in 2011/12."

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