Regional Universities Network contribute $2.4 billion to economy

03 November 2020 4 min. read
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In a new report, Nous Group has measured the economic impact of Australia’s Regional University Network (RUN) to find that it contributes well over $2 billion in real GDP terms to the economy.

RUN was founded in 2011 as a collaborative effort to put regional Australia on the economic map. Seven members – Central Queensland University (CQU), Charles Sturt University (CSU), Federation University Australia (Federation), Southern Cross University (SCU), University of New England (UNE), University of Sunshine Coast (USC), and University of Southern Queensland (USQ) – came together to help transform their regional economies.

Nearly a decade after forming, RUN members sought to measure the economic impact of their initiative. Management consultancy Nous Group was commissioned alongside the Victoria University’s Centre of Policy Studies to carry out the analysis, and the results are sparkling.

RUN universities attract a wide spectrum of students

Not only do RUN members contribute $2.4 billion to the real GDP in regional Australia, they also create well over 11,000 jobs in these areas. These are just the latest figures in an ongoing growth story. In just three years between 2015 and 2018, RUN’s GDP contribution ballooned by more than 40% while job creation grew by well over 80%.

“RUN member universities contribute to real GDP and support jobs growth within their regions, primarily by attracting student and university expenditure to the regions. In addition, RUN member universities grow Australia’s regional workforce and increase its productivity, and contribute to industry productivity by generating high quality research,” explained the Nous Group report.

International students

The universities not only attract talent from across Australia, but have also managed to build a notable pool of international students. More than 9,000 students from around the world were enrolled in RUN member universities in 2018, and well over 36,000 had relocated from across Australia. More than 17,000, meanwhile, enroll in their local RUN member university.

RUN universities' contribution to the real GDP

What’s more, investing in the regional workforce is producing immediate returns, with 70% of RUN graduates taking up employment within regional Australia itself. Far from a brain drain, regional Australia now enjoys a skilled workforce that can contribute to sectors such as healthcare, aged care, social assistance, education and training – many of which have been under considerable strain for years.

The Covid-19 crisis has only exacerbated these issues, which makes these talented graduates very welcome in the regional economy.

And there is something in it for the graduates as well. Researchers pointed out that “RUN universities also increase the earnings potential of their graduates. Undergraduates from all RUN member universities can expect to earn $235,000 more over the course of their lifetime than non-degree holders in RUN member universities’ campus regions.”

These are the cumulative wins of the RUN, although the specific economic contributions of individual universities differ based on their size, nature, and broader economic context. According to the report, all seven members have managed to contribute at least $200 million, although some have managed to truly excel in their economic impact.

CSU, for instance, contributed more than half a billion dollars to regional Australia’s real GDP in 2018, while USQ clocked more than $400 million. CQU and UNE both contributed more than $300 million, while Federation, SCU and USC all contributed approximately $200 million or more. The contributions are substantial, and their effects reverberate beyond just the regional economy to build Australia’s national economy as well.

Research income by RUN member university, 2000-2018

Experts have long suggested that better university performance has the potential to add billions in economic value. According to the Nous Group and Centre of Policy Studies report, the research conducted at RUN universities has added value across crucial sectors in the Australian economy, such as agriculture or mining for instance.

As these universities build their contribution, quality is on the up as well. “RUN’s research excellence has grown rapidly. In 2018, RUN member universities had a cumulative 34 broad fields of research rated as “Above world standard” or “Well above world standard,”” highlighted the report.

Not surprisingly, money is also flowing in to support this growth. In fact, research income form RUN members has been growing at nearly 10% annually – touching $124 million by 2018.

Going forth, the RUN’s expanding size and scope is likely to drive further integration between Australia’s regional and national economies, making for a far more inclusive economic landscape.