STEM project makes Canberra cut
An approval in February by Infrastructure Australia of a business case for a STEM campus in Hobart's CBD brings forward a vision of a world-class Tasmanian university city.
UTAS's ambitions involve modern architecture — rather than Old World-style sandstone and ivy — between the looming grandeur of kunanyi/Mount Wellington and the blue swathe of the River Derwent.
And there is no doubting an opportunity has been recognised for the creation of Australia's most vibrant university city.
In time, we might even see Hobart discussed alongside Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg and Princeton.
"In the great university cities of the world, the campus is right in the heart of city, providing life, energy and character," UTAS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen, said.
UTAS has a significant and growing presence in Hobart's heart including:
- The Centre for Arts in Hunter Street;
- The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies on Castray Esplanade;
- Modernistic Medical Science 1 and Medical Science 2 buildings in Campbell Street that accommodate the Medical Faculty, the Menzies Centre for Medical Research, the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre and other related activities; and
- The original (sandstone) Domain Campus.
In addition, construction has started on a $96 million Hedberg cultural and arts precinct on Campbell Street.
And, UTAS students enrolled for 2017 are now settled into a new $65 million accommodation block in Melville Street.
Infrastructure Australia (IA) ticked off on a business case for moving the schools of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) from Sandy Bay to land owned by UTAS on the corner of Argyle and Melville streets.
This was the first time IA, which advises the Federal Government on infrastructure spending for projects costing more than $100 million, has accepted a business case for an educational project.
IA Chairman, Mark Birrell, said: “It will be good for Hobart, good for Tasmania and good for the nation.
“This was a significant hurdle to get over for the project.
“It is the first time that IA has assessed a full business case for a university infrastructure project and UTAS came through with flying colours.”
UTAS Vice-Chancellor, Peter Rathjen, said the project would build local capacity in the crucial STEM subjects and deliver high-level interdisciplinary research, with the potential to create new economic sectors across the State.
The planned facility will accommodate 3,000 students and 700 staff and UTAS has calculated that it could increase undergraduate demand for STEM subjects by up to 60 per cent.
“This is part of a vision that repositions education and innovation as central to the prosperity of Tasmania,” Professor Rathjen said.
The project still has a distance to travel. It requires funding commitments from the State Government, UTAS and, crucially, an estimated $250 million from Canberra.
A State Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the elevation of the STEM project to the IA priority list ... However, at this stage the Government’s priority is on delivering the UTAS northern campus relocations in Launceston and Burnie.”
The President of the Tasmania University Union, Clark Cooley, said: “This is a win-win proposal for students, business, the community and the State’s economic future.”
Stephen Matchett reported in his nationally circulating Campus Morning Mail: "When added to the university’s big building program in the north and its new associate degree program designed to address the State’s unemployment and skills shortage, this new proposal confirms UTAS as central to the State’s prospects.
"As Professor Rathjen puts it: 'We are pursuing the economic and social benefits which flow to university cities, including the creation of new knowledge-based industry clusters, and delivery of globally relevant, regionally specific applied-research programs, in such a way as to drive a new, better future for Tasmania.'”
The Australian reported: "The IA listing is a significant step forward for the university which has ambitious plans to link the STEM precinct to its medical school, student accommodation and a nearby creative arts hub."
The IA priority list is expected to be considered by Federal Cabinet this month.
Image courtesy of UTAS
8 March 2017, Edition 181