CHARLES Sturt University has abandoned its plans for a new campus in the Bathurst central business district as it works to rein in an $80 million revenue decline.
CSU had been in negotiations with Bathurst Regional Council to establish a presence in the CBD that would have included an ambitious redevelopment of the town square area, including the historic TAFE building.
But Bathurst MP Paul Toole has welcomed confirmation that those plans have been shelved as it battles the impact of falling international student numbers and COVID-19.
Mr Toole yesterday maintained his assault on the operations of the university, questioning how its finances had turned around from a budget surplus of $38 million in 2015 to a revenue decline of $80 million just five years later.
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And while CSU failed to answer a list of specific questions sent by the Western Advocate on Monday morning, it did issue a statement saying it "remains committed to its campus in Bathurst and ensuring its vibrancy into the future".
"As a key stakeholder for our regions, industries and professions we are focused on ensuring our strategic approach to reimagining our campus in Bathurst will deliver the outcomes our students, communities and professions need and demand into the future," the statement read.
"Charles Sturt is not alone in the sector in facing a financial challenge as we respond to changing markets and losses as a result of COVID-19. We have clearly stated the financial challenge we are facing and will continue working with our stakeholders to ensure we can protect our capacity to serve our communities into the future."
Mr Toole on Monday expressed frustration with what he called a "lack or transparency" from CSU and said the board had failed to answer a number serious questions he had put to them in writing in recent weeks.
However, he told a press conference on Monday that he had finally received confirmation that the university was no longer looking to move into the Bathurst CBD.
"I'm really pleased that they have decided not to pursue their campus in the middle of town at the old TAFE building," he said.
"If you have a look at the existing footprint of Charles Sturt University there are plenty of campuses, plenty of teaching and learning facilities and plenty of land available to be able to expand to put these facilities on the existing site."
Meanwhile, Mr Toole has accused the CSU board of an "empire building" program at the expense of it four core campuses.
Mr Toole asked how the board could justify expansion plans at its Orange and Port Macquarie campuses when its finances were in such a dire position.
"CSU has a core charter to represent the communities in Albury, Bathurst, Dubbo and Wagga; they have a responsibility for those campuses first," he said.
"What they've done is now put these campuses at risk because of decisions that have been made in the past.
"We always wanted to see a medical school because we know that training doctors in the bush is important ... but I have to ask the question: $66 million for a medical school?
"Is that good value for money? What does the business case look like? How many doctors do CSU have to see go through the medical school to make it viable?"
Mr Toole called for a guarantee that "marquee courses" including nursing, teaching, journalism and engineering would continue to be offered at Bathurst.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article referred to an $80 million budget deficit. CSU has contacted the Western Advocate to say the figure should be an $80 million revenue decline. This figure has now been corrected in the article.