Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 7, No. 2 (2010)

Higher Education in Northern Australia – the Impact of the Minerals Boom

Philip Bell, CQUniversity

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine the impact of Australia’s minerals boom on the demand for higher education in northern Australia, and the challenges that the mining boom presents for regional higher education providers in addressing the future human capital needs of northern Australia. Since 2002, one of the primary drivers of economic growth in Australia has been an export-driven minerals boom. The focus of this minerals boom has been increased mining and minerals processing activity in regional areas of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, resulting in the value of mineral exports from these states doubling between 2004 and 2008. Despite the current economic slow down, the long-term growth prospects of countries such as China and India indicate that this mining-based growth is likely to continue and be a key factor in many regional economies within Australia for the foreseeable future. However, the economic growth associated with the minerals boom has created several very real challenges for regional economies in Australia’s north. The increased demand for labour associated with the minerals boom has caused a significant skills shortage in many areas of regional Australia. This is likely to become a serious long-term problem for many of these regional economies, as many areas of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland have also experienced declining university enrolments during this period, further compromising the ability of these regions to meet future labour needs of industry. Declining enrolments have also placed a considerable short-term strain on many of the universities servicing these regions, creating further challenges for regional sustainability. This paper examines the impact of the minerals boom to date on the demand for higher education in northern Australia, and the sustainability of regional higher education providers in high economic growth environments. A range of datasets are used to examine changes in the demand for higher education amongst student groups within these regions, and the potential consequences for regional employers and long-term regional competitiveness. Finally, it identifies challenges facing higher education providers operating in such environments, and the policy implications of these challenges for government.

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