Education and Research Sector

  • TNQ has a dynamic and vibrant education sector that includes two universities, six TAFE campuses, 35 secondary schools, and a number of private language and business schools.
  • Youth unemployment currently sits at 13.2% and the region faces a skills shortage in areas related to health, allied health, aviation and a number of other STEAM professions.
  • To address regional skill gaps three key projects have been identified: (1) $50 million for a permanent new CQUniversity campus in the Cairns CBD; (2) $45 million for stages 2 and 3 of CQUniversity’s Asia Pacific Aviation Hub; and (3) $26.7 million recurrent for Commonwealth Supported Places.
  • The CQUniversity Cairns campus is shovel-ready and will create an estimated 330 jobs (direct and indirect) during construction, and contribute $549 million to the regional economy over 10 years.

Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) has a dynamic and vibrant education sector that includes two universities, six TAFE campuses, 35 secondary schools, and a number of private language and business schools.

Prior to COVID-19, nearly 13,000 people were employed in education and training in TNQ, accounting for 5.2% of the State education workforce and contributing $1.1B to the economy. However, the region is shifting towards a knowledge-based economy which has implications for educators and regional training facilities. To accommodate the shift, the sector has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure in recent years, and a number of additional projects are flagged for investment.

With a strong student base now established, CQUniversity and James Cook University (JCU) continue to experience rapid growth in the Cairns region. Through collaborative partnerships, to address current gaps in education pathways the two universities are working to build capacity across a range of industries and community initiatives.

CQU: In 2017 CQUniversity released a community impact plan consisting of six primary projects. Most of the projects in the 2017 plan were completed to varying degrees by the end of 2018, requiring the development of an updated CQUniversity 2019 Cairns Community Impact Plan which includes:

  • a permanent new CQUniversity Cairns CBD campus ($50 million); and
  • Stages 2 and 3 of the CQUniversity Asia Pacific Aviation Hub ($45 million).

CQUniversity currently operates from four leased premises across Cairns. The proposed new campus will allow the consolidation of these sites, with the exception of the Aviation Centre which will remain co-located with Cairns Airport.

JCU: Based in JCU’s Division of Tropical Health and Medicine, JCU proposes to establish a Tropical Global Health Centre to produce research-enabled clinicians with extensive clinical training in population health and global public policy.

The Centre will leverage investment in the Cairns University Hospital to provide students with globally relevant training and deliver a medical workforce specifically prepared to handle regional health challenges. Although initially focused on the medical workforce, the program will subsequently expand to include nursing, dentistry, allied health, pharmacy and veterinary health professionals.



The TNQ region has an estimated resident population of 278,080 and population growth of 1.1% per annum. The attainment of a university degree in Cairns is 54% lower than the national average at 14.3%, while 8.5% of residents have an Advanced Diploma or Diploma and 22.9% have a Vocational certificate, on par with the rest of the State.

In April 2020 (early figures for COVID-19), annual trend unemployment sat at 8.1% however most employment occurred within the 25-44 year age group, leaving youth unemployment (15-24 years) at a much higher estimated 13.2%. While Cairns has two universities, access to appropriate courses and pathways into University are critical in bridging the high youth unemployment rate and encouraging young people to enter the workforce.

Nationally over the next 5 years, an additional 85,000 health workers and 28,000 educators will be needed to fill jobs in regional areas. To fill this need, the importance of regional universities cannot be overstated with more than 55% of employed regional university graduates remaining in regional areas on completion of their studies.



In addressing youth unemployment and preparing the region’s workforce for the future, the following three projects have been identified as essential enablers.

  1. CQUniversity seeks $50 million to establish a permanent, purpose-built CBD campus capable of accommodating 4,000+ students by 2030. Due to the proposed location adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre, the new Campus will complement the various State Government buildings in the area, including the Health and Emergency Services Office, effectively creating a Knowledge Hub precinct in the Cairns CBD. The close proximity to the Convention Centre provides an important link for conference organisers, and allows for greater co-operation around facilities and human resources such as the employment of students for events. Most importantly, the new Campus will address the significant skill gaps identified in the region, particularly in terms of allied and mental health. The allied health courses will be supported by the establishment of on-campus health clinics staffed by supervised student practitioners, with appointments made available to the wider community at a lower cost than normal. The project is shovel-ready and will generate an estimated 330 jobs during construction (80 direct) plus more than 300 direct jobs through expanded University operations, and staff and student expenditure in the region. The economic impact over 10 years will be around $549 million.
  2. CQUniversity seeks $45 million for the second ($10 million) and third ($35 million) stages of its ambitious Asia-Pacific Aviation Hub. This funding will secure a second hangar at the Cairns International Airport, new laboratory facilities including specialist space for Aviation Accidents Forensics, new flight simulators including a high-fidelity, world class flight simulator capable of attracting global commercial flight training business, and the roll-out of new aviation courses. It is estimated Stage 2 alone will generate 55-70 construction jobs and 10-15 permanent operational jobs, leading to a long-term economic impact of $30 million across Cairns.
  3. To support the training and recruitment of Cairns-based clinicians, JCU requires an additional 50 Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) and 30 international places recurrent for the JCU Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program. This will allow JCU to offer Years 1-6 of the MBBS in Cairns and Mackay. The additional places will be distributed across the regional centres of Cairns (30), Mackay (10) and Townsville (40).
  • That in 2020-2021 the State Government invest $50 million to establish the CQUniversity CBD Campus, with a further $10 million delivered in 2022-2023 for Stage 2 of the CQUniversity Asia-Pacific Aviation Hub. Collectively, these investments will generate 330-400 construction jobs in Cairns.
  • That the Federal Government invest $35 million in 2022-2023 to progress Stage 3 of the CQUniversity Asia-Pacific Aviation Hub, positioning Cairns as a world-class leader in aviation training.
  • That to support the training of a regional medical workforce, the Federal Government allocate an additional 50 Commonwealth Supported Places and 30 International places recurrent, together with an allocation of Destination Australia scholarships to JCU’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.


PROPONENT: CQUniversity and James Cook University
PRIORITY: Infrastructure