Education and Research Sector

  • Tropical North Queensland’s education sector includes two universities, six TAFE campuses, 35 secondary schools, and private language and business schools.
  • Youth unemployment sits at 12.6% and the region faces a skills shortage in health, allied health, aviation and a number of other STEAM professions.
  • Two key infrastructure projects have been identified to address regional skills shortages with $50 million sought for a permanent new CQUniversity campus in the Cairns CBD and $10 million for stage 2 of CQUniversity’s Asia Pacific Aviation Hub. The campus project 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. The project will address current skills shortage in allied health, engineering, and technology.
  • Regional skills shortages will also be addressed by James Cook University by establishing a medical school in Cairns, with $26.7 million sought to support 80 student places (50 designated Commonwealth Supported Places for domestic students and 30 student places for international students), enabling students to complete JCU’s Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery program in Cairns.

Tropical North Queensland has a dynamic and vibrant education sector with 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. 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 (CQU) and James Cook University (JCU) continue to grow in the Cairns region. Through collaborative partnerships and to address current gaps in education pathways the two universities are working to build capacity across a range of industries and community initiatives.

CQU: Since commencing on campus delivery in Cairns in 2016, CQU Cairns has experienced more than 20% year on year growth. Given this it has outgrown its current premises and requires new purpose-built facilities. As part of its 2019 Community Impact Plan, CQU has two shovel-ready projects:

  • A permanent new CQUniversity Cairns CBD campus ($50m for construction/fit out) and
  • Stage 2 of the CQUniversity Asia Pacific Aviation Hub ($10m).

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: Building on 30 years of commitment to Cairns and the Far North, James Cook University proposes to expand Cairns based activity to ensure that students can study a full medical degree program in Cairns. 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 286,873 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 November 2020 the unemployment rate sat at 6.1% in the Cairns SA4 region However, most jobs are in the 25-44 year age group, leaving youth unemployment (15-24 years) at a much higher estimated 12.6%. 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 five 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 65% 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 four 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 existing infrastructure, 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 with regard to 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, engineering and technology. The allied health courses will be supported by the establishment of on-campus health clinics staffed by supervised student practitioners. 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 $10 million for Stage 2of its ambitious Asia- Pacific Aviation Hub. This funding will secure a second hanger 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. CQUniversity will partner with Cairns Airport and Aviation Australia to grow skills to support emerging industry opportunities. It is estimated Stage 2 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 designated 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 the Federal Government invests $50m to establish a new CBD campus for CQUniversity and a further $10 million for Stage 2 of the CQUniversity Asia-Pacific Aviation Hub.
  • That to support the training of a regional medical workforce, the Federal Government allocates an additional 50 Commonwealth Supported Places and 30 International places recurrent, plus an allocation of Destination Australia scholarships to JCU’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.

PROPONENT: CQUniversity and James Cook University
PRIORITY: Infrastructure