It’s been 12 years since a federal education minister last visited the University of Wollongong – but he didn’t get the warmest of welcomes.
Police were called in to move on around a dozen protesters at UOW on Wednesday afternoon during a visit by Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
The minister - in town to open a $7.3 million rail training centre - was met by the bunch of angry students who were protesting cuts to higher education.
But Mr Birmingham shrugged off the incident and went on to officially launch the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Advanced Technologies in Rail Track Infrastructure (ITTC Rail).
ITTC Rail, the first of its kind to be partly funded by the Australian Government, will train the next generation of rail engineers with the knowledge and skills needed to maintain and upgrade Australia’s rail network.
Mr Birmingham said the Australian rail network – the sixth largest in the world – plays a crucial role in the national economy.
But ITTC Rail director Buddhima Indraratna said maintaining and improving the rail network in order to meet the needs of the future presents significant engineering challenges.
The distinguished professor from UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, said the centre would aim to create innovative engineering solutions.
“Given the dependency of the Australian economy on efficient heavy haul, there is a pressing need to upgrade ageing rail infrastructure by rejuvenating higher degree training with a new generation of engineers with advanced knowledge and practice skills,” Professor Indraratna said.
“Australia also has some of the world’s heaviest as well as longest heavy-haul trains, exceeding four kilometres at times, with considerable challenges offered to railway engineers along problematic soil terrains.
“Through specialist training of industry-focused researchers, ITTC Rail will meet the challenge of designing, constructing and maintaining the rail network.”
UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings said ITTC Rail would deliver significant economic and social benefits at both a national and local level.
“The centre will build on the university’s expertise in rail track engineering to deliver new learning opportunities for students and provide them with the skills and knowledge they will need for the rail industry workplaces of the future,” he said.
“At the same time, the centre will undertake fundamental research, finding innovative solutions to the complex engineering challenges that Australia’s rail network faces.”
Minister Birmingham added the training centre would be critical in supporting the government’s significant investment in rail infrastructure projects across Australia.
The investment he said “will ensure Australia’s future workforce has the specialised skills and expertise to deliver on projects such as the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, the Port Botany Rail Upgrade and the Melbourne Airport Rail Link.”
ITTC Rail brings together rail track infrastructure expertise from all sectors of the rail industry, with eight universities and 11 national and international industry partners taking part.