THE Hunter’s humble roots could form the basis of a new international Centre of Excellence at the University of Newcastle.
New vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen met staff during a series of ‘‘town hall’’ style meetings in April as she and staff prepare a new vision for the institution.
She told the Newcastle Herald yesterday she would like to build on the university’s strengths in areas such as health and engineering and attract more international students and research, particularly from Asia.
Professor McMillen said the university had been doing much of the ‘‘heavy lifting’’ for the rest of Australia when it came to educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The university has the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in the country: 26.75 per cent of students enrolled at Newcastle university, compared with 15.83 per cent statewide and 15.57 per cent nationally.
It also has almost double the average proportion of indigenous students enrolled, at 2.44 per cent, compared with 1.31 per cent across the state and 1.35 per cent nationally.
Professor McMillen said it meant the institution had a wealth of expertise about getting both disadvantaged school leavers and mature age students into programs to qualify for university and getting them through to graduation.
She wants to create a Centre of Excellence in this field on campus.
‘‘For students who haven’t had a traditional education this is the tough end,’’ Professor McMillen said.
It comes as the federal government tries to increase the proportion of students from a disadvantaged background with a university degree.
Professor McMillen said the university’s plans to expand its presence in the Newcastle central business district would form a large part of its long-term plans, but it was still dependent on government funding.
The university’s application to the federal government for funding has reached stage two and is among 40 projects under consideration, down from 160.
She said she would be watching Tuesday’s federal budget closely to see if there were any announcements.
Professor McMillen said she would like to see the university contribute more to the Hunter through cross-faculty research particularly in areas of carbon technology and research into coal seam gas.
The university is expected to publish its vision by the end of the year.