A regional university campus remains a key goal for planners in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, as the regional capital of Western Australia’s Goldfields continues to broaden it’s economic base.

While the city is currently serviced by the Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) and UWA’s Rural Clinical School, both WASM operator Curtin University and the Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission are in talks to build on current tertiary offerings.

Speaking during a recent visit to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Curtin Vice Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said the university was seriously committed to expansion.

“It’s something we’re looking very carefully at.

“WASM is not only important to the university, but to the state and Australia more broadly,” Professor Terry told Rebecca Curtin on ABC Goldfields-Esperance.

“One is to have more of our students in other fields based in Kalgoorlie for some of their course, particularly health science students where they might undertake placement here in the region.”

She said Curtin’s other key goal was increased support for both online and face-to-face instruction in courses beyond mining.

“Particularly in areas like nursing and education, the capacity over time to provide more opportunities for tertiary-based students,” Professor Terry said.

Opportunities spotted despite downturn and uncertainty

The proposals come despite a period of instability in the local tertiary education sector, with the rationalisation into the Goldfields Institute of Technology receiving a mixed reception from the Goldfields community.

While the State Government bringing the Institute back under the banner of the new Central Regional TAFE, community leaders feared a loss of local autonomy to the new Geraldton-based college.

Goldfields Esperance Development Commission chief executive Shayne Flanagan said the TAFE restructure, as well as Curtin’s interest in expansion, had forced a re-think of an initial feasibility study for a university conducted in 2015.

“But we have to be reasonably pragmatic as to what’s viable and practical.”

He said the success of the Geraldton Universities Centre and the emergence of the multi-institution collaboration Mining Education Australia were a sign of increased flexibility in the sector that the region could take advantage of.

“I’d expect Curtin, through WASM, would continue to deliver the courses they have historically,” Mr Flanagan said.

“But I’d expect there would be a greater degree of interest from the players in that space: the University of Queensland, University of Adelaide, University of New South Wales and others.

“Nothing is off the cards, and nothing should be off the cards.”

Curtin says additional campus would be duplication

But Professor Terry said any future university development in Kalgoorlie should centre on the School of Mines.

“In my view, Kalgoorlie-Boulder already has a university here — it’s a well-established campus with good infrastructure,” she said.

“I think if another university was to open up, I can’t imagine them offering things like mining engineering or metallurgy, because of the sheer amount of infrastructure needed to support those courses.”

Curtin has tipped more than $100 million into redevelopment of WASM’s century-old campus in recent years, with new student accommodation at Agricola College set to open in coming months.

Professor Terry said WASM’s established presence meant the Geraldton model, where multiple universities offer courses through a central hub, was not needed.

“Here in Kalgoorlie [you’re] privileged to have a university campus,” she said.

“What we need to do is work to seen if we can broaden our offerings beyond the WA School of Mines.”