NSW Liberals seek specialist unis to restore IT

Shadow education minister Adrian Piccoli flags potential R&D labs should Liberals win March election

The NSW Liberal party will seek to establish specialist IT and science centres at the state’s universities in a bid to attract and retain attention as a lucrative centre for development and investment.

However, the plan is reliant on gaining funding from the Commonwealth and the private sector in order to be viable.

Shadow education minister and deputy leader of the NSW Nationals party, Adrian Piccoli, told Computerworld Australia that one of the party’s intentions was to once again secure the state as an IT hub for the country.

“NSW used to be the hub for a lot of things that we are losing to other states and it’s particularly because there’s been a lack of investment in universities by the NSW Government and, to some degree, the Commonwealth,” he said.

While the current Labor state government has continued to boast of retaining a significant amount of Australia’s IT workforce, moves by the former Labor government in Victoria have shifted many opportunities south, including the location of NBN Co’s network operations centre.

Should the NSW Liberal party win the state elections on 26 March this year, Piccoli said the government would hope to follow in the footsteps of the recent $30 million biotechnology centre established at the University of Queensland. However, with a “limited” state budget, Piccoli was unwilling to announce how much a Liberal government would be willing to invest for such an initiative, instead hoping private sector and Commonwealth funding makes up the majority of any investment promised.

“There are opportunities where the state government can provide some financial assistance to the universities for them to leverage and obtain other sources of funding,” he said. “Where that’s possible and obviously where that’s an advantage to NSW, we’ll look to do that.”

Piccoli said a Liberal government would also seek to reinstate international education - the state’s second largest export product - as a priority.

“Our reputation has taken a hit over failed private colleges, the violence against Indian students, we need to build that up,” he said. “It doesn’t require a lot of resources, but we would certainly do everything we can to promote NSW as a destination, particularly to China and India but even beyond those two countries.”

The current government is known to have undertaken some initiatives to restore a positive view of Australian education for international students, following setbacks suffered as a result of violence against Indian and south Asian students as well as falling numbers across universities. Market research and focus groups have been conducted overseas to determine possible mitigation strategies but the government is yet to announce any significant ploys, amid staff cuts at several institutions.

Computers in schools to stay under Liberals

Piccoli said that while the Liberal party has previously been critical of the rollout of student laptops under the $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution (DER), the program would continue unabated under a Liberal state government.

“Schools report very favourably about the program, so we’d very much like to continue it,” he said. “We’ve been critical of the way that NSW implemented particularly the laptop rollout initially but I think most of those problems have been ironed out so we would certainly support the continuation of that.”

Though federally funded, the laptop rollout has been managed by individual state education departments. In NSW, the state’s Department of Education and Training has received nearly $75 million - as well as a share of $807 million in supportive funding - from the Commonwealth to deliver Lenovo laptops to each Year 9 student in government schools.

(See how IT managers at private schools have coped with the rollout)

However, the program has continually fallen short of targets nationally, with recent estimates indicating some 203,143 computers may not be delivered in time for the December 2011 deadline.

Again, Piccoli said continuation of the program would rely on Commonwealth rather than state funding.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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