A new future for Western Sydney
An edited version of this article by Professor Peter Shergold, Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, was originally published in the Daily Telegraph(opens in a new window).
In the last few weeks I’ve attended two events that have raised my spirits. Both were inspiring, in very different ways.
The first was being part of a joyous swirl of red and black at Parramatta’s stadium. Here was a raucous but good-natured crowd, loudly singing their beloved Western Sydney Wanderers to home victory.
The second was standing in a far more sombre gathering in the still hazy sun at the Springwood Community Recovery Centre. The long-serving and inspiring Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Jan Reid, was making an extraordinary announcement. She was guaranteeing a university place to all those students whose Year 12 exams had been brutally disrupted by the Blue Mountains bushfires.
Two events, two places. They represent the western and eastern points of a region, united by pride and good neighbourliness. It’s not how Western Sydney is usually portrayed.
Between these two moments of personal truth sits a dynamic and diverse region. Around two million people born in this country and from all around the globe are bound together by aspiration. This is the fastest growing part of Sydney. One in 11 Australians live here.
Of course I know the disadvantages. I can even see it as I drive between the six campuses of the University. It’s what we so often discuss when I visit school principals, meet the business leaders and talk to the local politicians.
I can recite the statistics. Greater Western Sydney as a whole, does have poorer educational outcomes, worse health, fewer skilled jobs and lower incomes than the CBD, the North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs.
The trip to and from work does take longer. We know all that but, too often, without thinking properly about what can be done to overcome these manifest problems.
But talk is not enough. New ideas need to be translated into reality. Policies can only be judged by how well they are implemented. Otherwise it’s same old, same old.
Let’s put negative stereotypes aside. There’s something new and exciting happening in the region. I come face-to-face with it every time I award students their degrees. I hear it when I chat to their proud-as-punch mums and dads.
UWS has over 40,000 students, growing to 50,000. The great majority are the first generation in their family to win a place at university. Around three-quarters live in Western Sydney. Many are poorer students, most working long hours to support their study. Around a third of them, often the children of ambitious migrant parents, speak a language other than English when they go home to study.
This is the face of Australia’s future. These are students who see not barriers but opportunities. These are the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, community workers and business entrepreneurs who will – given half a chance – transform Western Sydney into a thriving metropolis.
Forget exclusion and disadvantage. Think, instead, social mobility and equal opportunity. Imagine what a potential asset this next generation of leaders will be. These are students, very often, who have done it pretty tough and learned to overcome barriers. Young adults who are fluent in two or three languages. People connected to our nation’s future in India and China. People who understand the Middle East, South America and Africa.
So, as I think back on the sporting triumph and personal despair of the last month, I give thanks to the Telegraph’s bold campaign for a ‘Fair Go for the West’.
Homes need to be built, public transport improved, businesses set up and cultural facilities established. It’s a formable task but it’s not impossible.
With an even break Western Sydney can create new jobs based on education, skill, research and investment in the ‘intellectual capital’ of an ambitious population. That’s the role of UWS, the region’s two great TAFE Institutes and a range of energetic private education providers.
As we say at UWS, in our role as community partner of the Wanderers: your team, your University, our Western Sydney. I’m happy to be one small part of that emerging future.
Professor Peter Shergold used to head the Department of the Prime Minister. Today he is the Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney.
14 November 2013