Julia Gillard opens three ground-breaking facilities at UNE

Published 22 July 2008

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The Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, visited the University of New England today to officially open three new educational facilities to which the Australian Government has contributed a total of almost $11 million.

They are the School of Rural Medicine, the new building for the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, and the Dixson Library’s Learning Commons – built with the aid of Australian Government funding of $6.5 million, $1.3 million, and $3.1 million respectively.

In opening the School of Rural Medicine, the Deputy Prime Minister (who holds, among other portfolios, that of Minister for Education) said the School had been “built on the shoulders of a very special partnership”. That partnership – the Joint Medical Program – is an expansion of the highly successful University of Newcastle medical program in partnership with UNE, Hunter New England Health, and Northern Sydney Central Coast Health.

Ms Gillard (pictured here) referred to the shortage of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals around Australia, and added that those shortages were most acute in rural and regional areas. She said there was “overwhelming evidence” that medical professionals trained in a rural setting were likely to devote all or a part of their professional life to service in such a setting. Professor Ian Wronski, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences at James Cook University, reinforced that message.

“This is an historic moment for the University, the New England region, and rural and regional Australia,” said the Head of the School of Rural Medicine, Professor John Fraser. “We see the School of Rural Medicine as being a strategic hub in rural health.”

Professor Fraser, along with the Chancellor of UNE, Mr John Cassidy, and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, emphasised the distinctive contributions of all the participants in the project – mentioning particularly the local health professionals. Professor Pettigrew thanked the University of Newcastle’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Saunders, Dean of Medicine – Joint Medical Program, Professor Michael Hensley, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health), Professor Mike Calford, and the Chief Executive of Hunter New England Health, Dr Nigel Lyons, all of whom were present at the opening.

When opening the Oorala Aboriginal Centre’s new building, Ms Gillard said that Indigenous Australians were under-represented in the nation’s education system, and that it was important to work towards “closing the gap”. “This is a very special Centre,” she said, referring to the work of Oorala as a study and educational advisory centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at UNE, and to the “passion” of its staff, led by the Director, Diane Mumbler.

She said that, when Aboriginal students arrived at university, it was important for support to be available.

Ms Mumbler thanked everyone who had enabled the newly-housed Centre “to become a really successful cultural centre” in addition to its student advisory role.

After an inspection of the Learning Commons in the Dixson Library, Ms Gillard said she was impressed by its “sense of space and light” (in contrast to the law libraries of her own university days), and the opportunities for students to use “the best of technology” and work together in groups. She said the Government believed it was “important for students to have access to the learning tools of the 21st century”.

The Learning Commons provides physical and electronic infrastructure for both distance-education and on-campus students. It has meeting rooms and informal group discussion areas, electronic media booths, problem-based learning rooms and a Medical Reserve to support the Joint Medical Program, and social spaces including lounge areas and a coffee and snack facility.

UNE’s Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Services), Eve Woodberry, said the Learning Commons represented “a change in philosophy” – a recognition of the more “social” way of learning of today’s students.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, displayed here expands to include her in a photograph, taken in the Anatomy Laboratory of the School of Rural Medicine, with first-year Bachelor of Medicine students Daniel O’Hara (left) and Daniel Tilley, and the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Alan Pettigrew.