Higher education in the Manning is about to receive a huge shake-up.
Flanked by MidCoast Council general manager Adrian Panuccio and mayor David West, Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie announced plans are in place to create the Taree Universities Campus.
The project will see University of Newcastle, University of New England and Central Queensland University provide university courses under the one roof in Taree.
Dr Gillespie said the project will take university education in the Manning and Great Lakes "to the next level."
"We really need to lift the educational opportunities in this region for both the school leaver and for mature aged students and that means we need to develop a stronger university presence here," Dr Gillespie said.
"It will deliver enormous social and economic benefits for our region.
"It will be a great win for the whole community."
Part of the development phase will be to secure funding to get the project off the ground.
This will be the task of a steering committee established to advise and assist in the development of the project. The committee will be made up of Federal, State and local government representatives, the three universities, TAFE as well as industry, business and school educational representatives.
The concept of the project is modeled on a campus in Geraldton, Western Australia.
The mixed mode format gives students access to online lectures and activities as well as face-to-face tutorials and laboratories.
"It involves collaboration and mixed mode delivery of the university courses on offer through the regional campus," Dr Gillespie explained.
"I believe this model can be developed successfully here in Taree to service the Manning Great Lakes area."
If practical study is required, local options, such as hospitals and classrooms, will be considered.
Dr Gillespie will work closely with MidCoast Council on the project.
Early indications suggest the campus will be stationed at MidCoast Council's Taree chambers once the relocation process to the former Masters site at Taree South is complete.
The campus project is an exciting opportunity for council, according to Mr Panuccio.
"That's an outstanding opportunity for all," Mr Panuccio said.
"For the council, it's an exciting opportunity to be a part of the steering committee that is going to develop the future university and higher education presence for Taree.
"There will also be some regional economic development opportunities as well as higher education opportunities for high school leavers and mature aged students."
MidCoast Council mayor David West described the project as "the greatest game-changer" for the MidCoast Council local government area.
"It opens doors to people who never had the key to open those doors," Cr West said.
"We are one of the lowest socio-economic areas in NSW and we have many families that have people that have the capacity to do further studies.
"We also have mature aged students that have the capacity to do so but do not have the wherewithal to travel and don't have the ability to pay for accommodation in distanced communities."
A meeting with key stakeholders will be held in the coming weeks to identify how the project will progress.
A timeframe for the completion of the project will be determined once the plans of the steering committee develop.