This week the University of Wollongong is celebrating 127 graduating students from our regional campuses on the South Coast and Southern Highlands.
It's a momentous occasion for students and their families and is testament to the role our regional campuses play in their communities.
The first of our regional campuses was established in Nowra in 1993, and since then our regional campus network has grown to include UOW Southern Highlands in Moss Vale, UOW Eurobodalla in Batemans Bay and UOW Bega Valley in Bega.
We know if people study or train in communities they are more likely to stay there.
Whether it's training nurses for jobs at their local hospital, or equipping accountants with the skills they need to work in rural towns, embedding universities in regional communities makes a strong case for economic empowerment.
Our regional campuses continue to be a significant driver of skills, jobs and economic activity in communities along the South Coast.
Where regional campuses arguably serve the greatest societal benefit though, is through the promotion of social cohesion and increasing the number of students from groups currently underrepresented in higher education (including First Nations people, people with disability and those from rural, regional and remote communities).
The Federal Government's Universities Accord has cast a spotlight on increasing access and participation, particularly among underrepresented communities.
This once-in-a-generation report seeks to future-proof Australia with a productive, equitable, and knowledgeable education system.
UOW's presence in regional centres is tailored to the skills and needs of those communities and is helping increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in regional and remote parts of the state who are earning university qualifications.
The numbers speak for themselves - at Bega, 65 per cent of our students are the first in their family to go to university. Moss Vale (64 per cent), Nowra (58 per cent) and Batemans Bay (55 per cent) all have high numbers of first-in-family students too.
We also strive to make sure that a university education is affordable through scholarships and other support activities.
UOW's excellence in driving equity and access outcomes is cited in several recent rankings results, including the AFR Best University Rankings and the QS Sustainability Rankings.
Our regional campuses are an enormous part of our success in this space.
If equity and access to higher education is to be a focus of the Universities Accord final report, then UOW's regional campuses will play a pivotal role in delivering on the government's vision.
We also know that our students at regional campuses feel a strong sense of identify with their campuses and their communities.
And while student numbers are low in comparison to other campuses, they value the relationships they form and the industry connections they make while studying with us.
This social cohesion is incredibly important, and can also be an important factor in helping students secure jobs in their communities.
Universities promote innovation and entrepreneurship and there is a long history of inventions that promote job creation and income creation. Embedding industry collaboration in regional campuses is critical to developing the strength of local economies and enhancing productivity.
Our regional campuses are home to some of our strongest manufacturing, agriculture, mining and marine heartlands.
Their expertise and partnerships are critical to keeping our communities prosperous.
It is undeniable that universities are not only undergoing changes in delivery models but are increasingly accountable to the communities we serve.
This presents both challenges and opportunities for our campuses, as students seek more meaningful and fulfilling education opportunities closer to home.
Regional university campuses deliver enormous impact to communities, and while small in stature, they are some of our brightest shining lights.
Professor Patricia Davidson is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Wollongong.