REGIONAL universities across Queensland and New South Wales are out-performing the metropolitan universities, including the Group of Eight, when it comes to student enrolments, new figures released by the Federal Government reveal.
The Group of Eight is a coalition of Australia's leading universities.
After a cap on student places in universities was removed earlier this year, competition between tertiary education institutions has increased and regional university enrolments are set to boom by 3000 new places.
Since 2009, members of the Regional Universities Network (RUN) have increased the number of places they offer by more than 19%, from 191,068 in 2009 to 221,765 this year.
Chief executive of the RUN, Dr Caroline Perkins welcomed the increased offers, but said that while the it was good news for regional communities, it was despite increased competition that had resulted from the removal of the cap on numbers.
"These figures confirm that our regional universities are continuing to grow despite the increased competition in the new demand-driven system and we have maintained, and in many places increased, the number of low SES places we are offering."
Figures released by the Federal Government show some 30% of students in regional universities are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, while just 17.8% of students in metropolitan universities are from struggling backgrounds.
Dr Perkins said many of these students are mature-aged students with families living in regional towns and young people who are the first in their family to study at university.
"And of course, regional universities are not just about teaching, they really do play a key role in the social and economic aspects of their communities. We want to ensure more people in regional areas are taking up the chance to study."
Minister for Tertiary Education, Senator Chris Evans, said that now the cap on student numbers had been removed, young people from rural and regional areas were now enrolling in record numbers in universities in their own areas.
"In preparation for the fully uncapped system, the Gillard Government has supported regional universities to grow their student places from 62,600 to 76,500," Mr Evans said."
"While greater access to university is a fundamental equity measure that will make Australia a fairer society, it is also a major economic reform that will unlock the earning capacity of regional students and local communities.
"There is no question that we must increase the participation rate of regional students or we will consign our economy to low growth and productivity.
"Australia needs more skilled workers with degrees and we cannot afford not to tap into the talent of regional students."