New USQ vice-chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie gets hands on during her first day in the job.
New USQ vice-chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie gets hands on during her first day in the job. Anton Rose

USQ vice-chancellor on cuts: 'Devastating for the region'

USQ vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie believes while a battle against cuts to universities was won last week, the war will continue.  

On the back of the Federal Government's reforms to the funding of universities being shot down in the Senate by independent MPs last Thursday, Professor Mackenzie believes future attempts to swing the axe on the sector's finances will hit regional universities likes USQ hardest.  

One of the key points she singled out was how much regional universities rely on government funding in comparison to institutions in capitals cities.

USQ vice chancellor's first day on the job: Geraldine Mackenzie comes home to Toowoomba after 10 years away.

A disparity, Professor Mackenzie said, that left USQ more vulnerable than its counterparts in Brisbane.  

"We know these types of cuts have a disproportionately greater effect on regional unis because we rely on the government for around 40 per cent of our funding, whereas metropolitan unis get less than 20% of their funding from the government," she said.  

The government's reforms looked to save $2.8 billion through a 7.5% increase to the cost of a degree over four years, and a 2.5% "efficiency dividend" imposed on universities.  

Those measures, the vice-chancellor claims, would have a "devastating" impact on USQ and the Toowoomba community as a whole.  

Despite the Senate's decision to block the reforms this time around, Professor Mackenzie does not believe the book is shut on future cuts.

"Unfortunately we can't breathe a big sigh of relief but we're glad they didn't go through. They call it 'reforms'. Well, I call it cuts," she said.

"(The government) has indicated they will still need to find cuts in other ways to compensate and that's potentially a big problem for education.

"Regional unis provide the nurses and teachers our region desperately needs and it's a problem if we experience cuts of that magnitude, $2.8 billion, in the sector as a whole.

"If those cuts come through it will be devastating for regional communities."

Professor Mackenzie, who only started as vice-chancellor at USQ in September, said the university was doing its best to balance the books, operating as she described "responsibly under tight margins".  

Potential cuts would kill a dream for regional students' hopes of higher education.  

"They don't have the additional funding and they have to sacrifice things to come to uni," Professor Mackenzie said.

"That makes it hard to achieve their dream."