When you think of university towns, Oxford, Cambridge, Boston and Princeton are some of the examples that spring to mind - but can Wollongong now lay claim to that title too?
It's difficult to find a formal definition of a university town but it's widely accepted that it is a city, or region, where the educational institution pervades economic and social life.
In a university town, many of the town's residents will be employed by that institution; businesses will have sprung up to cater for the needs of staff and students; accommodation will have been built to house them and graduates will be employed in various sectors.
The activities of the institution in a university town will also affect transport services; have a major impact on tourism; while ongoing construction of academic, research and support facilities will change the city's skyline.
In many instances, new innovative businesses will be established thanks to the research driven by the university, and in some cases the whole economic make-up of the city will be altered.
Sound familiar? Historically Wollongong has been seen as a steel city, and while that still rings true, there's no doubt the University of Wollongong now makes a major economic and social contribution to the region.
A report released this week, UOW: Leading Locally, Competing Globally, attests to this - revealing that the university generates $1.37 billion in regional economic output annually. That's a $659 million contribution to gross regional product.
The university employs 2100 full-time equivalent staff, who receive $250 million in salaries - although it sustains 4908 jobs in total throughout the region.
Meanwhile it contributes $673 million in direct expenditure to the regional economy, from international and non-local students, government grants and contracts and other external sources. In fact it is now the region's third largest exporter behind mining and steel.
UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings claims in the report that Wollongong is "a university city in every sense".
"The notion of a university city has been around for centuries in some parts of the world," he said.
"But in Australia, very few universities could claim an economic, social and cultural contribution so great as to make their 'sector brand' synonymous with an entire city or region.
"However ... evidence from the first-ever comprehensive study of UOW's economic and social contribution suggests such a notion can now be applied to Wollongong."
Report authors, Brad Braithwaite of the UOW Faculty of Business and Charles Harvie of the School of Economics, outlined to the Mercury some of the characteristics of a university town - and why the tag sat well with Wollongong.
"Some typical features [of a university town] would include the fact that the university is heavily embedded in the economic and social fabric of the local community," Mr Braithwaite said.
"That the university is a major source of external wealth, drawing income from a high number of non-local students [in UOW's case, this is 75 per cent], and national/international research collaborations [over $450 million in the last decade].
"It's a town where the university's actions and activities have an important impact across most if not all economic sectors.
"And where the university plays a major role in social equity and educational participation in the region [UOW has a very high intake of first-in-family university students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds]."
At the same time, Mr Braithwaite said, in a university town the city would benefit directly from the national and international reputation and links of its tertiary institution.
Wollongong ticks all those boxes with the new report, independently verified by Deloitte Access Economics, showing that UOW-related activities generate more than $2 billion in total economic output annually. In 2011, the university contributed $1.12 billion to the country's gross domestic product.
Graduates also generate over $1 billion a year through earnings premiums and extra taxes. And there's an impressive alumni network - some 109,000 students from 143 nationalities have graduated from UOW.
"With the rise of globalisation and increased importance of knowledge and innovation as key drivers of regional and national competitiveness and growth, the role of UOW for the regional economy is important now and into the future," Mr Braithwaite said. "The capability of UOW to generate new knowledge and innovation and to disseminate this widely throughout its region and beyond will be pivotal in assisting existing businesses, establishing new business, enhancing the effectiveness of government agencies, and in the generation of economic growth and employment.
"UOW can help transform the structure of the Illawarra economy to meet the needs of the global knowledge economy."
Cunningham MP Sharon Bird, who is Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills, said the university was critically important to the region.
"The university plays an important role in the economic life of the region, not just in terms of direct research and teaching in the education sector, but in the way it connects with manufacturing businesses and new emerging industry sectors like information and communication technology [ICT]," she said.
"The university trains people up for these jobs, it provides research which supports expansion of these businesses, which all feeds in together to create a real healthy economic driver for the region."
Ms Bird said regional universities such as Wollongong were vital to the broader economy of an area.
"People who study or work at the uni come and live in the region, they participate at a social and cultural level, they spend money in local businesses and all these flow-on effects are really important," she said.
"The main campus was established the year I was born, in 1962, so I take a close personal interest in its growth - we both reached the maturity of our 50 years last year.
"So I've seen how the town has embraced the uni, and more importantly how the university has embraced the town.
"The activities are not bound by the walls of the university, it sees itself as an integrated part of the community and that's what's really important."
Illawarra Business Chamber interim CEO Mike Halloran said the UOW was a significant asset for the regional economy.
"It brings in almost $700 million into the local economy from external sources each year, with around 75 per cent of the budget of the UOW being spent within its home region on salaries, purchases of goods and services and construction projects," he said.
"For businesses this means work for restaurants and hotels to cater for visitors for graduation, conferences and events; work for the construction industry associated with the infrastructure development, such as the Innovation Campus and new student accommodation; and additional retail, hospitality and property demand from the student population.
"Such widespread economic impacts have helped to make the Illawarra what it is today."
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the university provided an interesting example of how times had changed.
Originally a university college set up by the University of NSW, its main task was to train technical staff for the region's steel and mining industries.
"Now it's a major economic driver, in some respects outperforming the steelworks, although steel is still a major player in this city," Cr Bradbery said.
"What's exciting is that Wollongong is not just a university town, steel still plays a major part as well as mining, logistics, human and community services and ICT.
"We've now got a diversified economy locally so if one sector faces a downturn it doesn't bring the whole economy down, as it did when the steelworks went into a massive downturn in the mid '80s."
Cr Bradbery said the university was responsive to community needs - such as setting up the Graduate School of Medicine to train young doctors, and its plan to establish an early childhood learning facility.
However while there were advantages from being a university town, Cr Bradbery said there were challenges too.
"We are now in a period of transition from a sleepy industrial city to a cosmopolitan city with a large influx of uni students and young people," he said.
"We have people coming from other countries, and other areas, who expect to find a wide range of venues to eat at, to party and to socialise at."
This not only put pressure on council to plan and/or pay for these amenities, Cr Bradbery said, it created tensions with some residents.
"I sympathise with those people who live close to areas where there are restaurants or live entertainment," he said.
"And I'm very aware of the challenges as far as access to the uni, and parking, and how it affects the neighbourhood.
"So these are interesting, and challenging, times," Cr Bradbery added.