ACT News

Canberra the most 'university town' in the country, say UC and ANU

Professor Stephen Parker says universities are the way forward economically for the ACT.
Professor Stephen Parker says universities are the way forward economically for the ACT. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Canberra is the most "university town" in all of Australia, with the University of Canberra and the Australian National University producing the statistics to confirm it.

The universities have joined forces to commission research by Deloitte Access Economics to show just how much financial might they contribute to the local economy.

In a report they will deliver to ACT Chief Minster Katy Gallagher on Tuesday, the universities will show their total economic contribution exceeded $1.7 billion in 2012 and one in nine Canberrans is either a staff member or student at either institution.

Their combined economic contribution represents 4.9 per cent of the $35 billion local economy and comprises the direct economic effects of the universities operations, student spending and spending by visitors to students, and the indirect or flow-on effects to other sectors of the economy, such as suppliers of laboratory chemicals, cleaning services and student accommodation.

The two institutions employ about 11,500 full-time equivalent staff and students provide an estimated 13,400 full-time equivalent workers to the labour force – or 7 per cent of the total ACT workforce, concentrated in hospitality and retail.

As one of the large employers in the territory, the two universities contributed 12.6 per cent to the local economy through their payroll tax alone – paying $41 million in payroll tax in 2012.

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The universities contributed 4 per cent of total industry value added in the ACT in 2012 – more than financial and insurance services and more than utilities including gas, water, electricity and waste.

They also exported education services, educating 10,000 international students and 10,500 interstate students – earning $351 million and creating 2,450 full-time equivalent jobs.

There were more than 38,000 students enrolled at UC and ANU during 2012 with almost 3 per cent of all students enrolled in higher education in Australia attending university in the ACT – a disproportionate share given that the ACT is home to just 1.7 per cent of the Australian population at the end of 2012.

The ACT also benefited from a more highly educated community with 47 per cent of people in the ACT aged 25-34 holding a bachelor degree or higher, compared with 32 per cent nationally.

In total, 7.9 per cent of the usual resident population is studying full-time or part-time at a higher education institution; well above the next highest, of Melbourne and Ballarat with 5.3 per cent each.

Every dollar of expenditure related to the university sector is associated with 80 cents of value added.

Each additional dollar of expenditure associated with additional international students is associated with 50 cents of extra value added. In 2013 dollars, the present value of the modelled growth in international student numbers is worth $267 million to the ACT economy.

UC Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker said the report was important in quantifying the tertiary sector's importance to the ACT community and the ACT economy.

He also believed the report showed how important an expanding education sector could fill the economic vacuum created by a contracting public sector.

"The best insurance for the ACT Government to keep a supply of well-educated people in the ACT is to support the university sector."

He suggested the massive impost of payroll tax may be an area the ACT Government could consider.

"It is clear that every dollar invested in universities has a guaranteed multiplier effect and every year we pay more in payroll tax than they give in grants. I would suggest you could not find anywhere else to invest in the ACT which would provide this sort of return."

ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young said he wanted the report to build on an understanding – both in the Legislative Assembly and across the city – of how important universities were to the ACT's overall character and economic health.

"We are an integral part of the community and we add an enormous amount to it – we have a lot to be proud of in Canberra."

The report did not factor in the economic contribution of the Australian Catholic University, or the University of NSW ADFA.