STUDENTS in the outer east may abandon post-secondary education altogether when the Swinburne Lilydale campus closes next year, a school principal fears.
Mt Lilydale Mercy College principal Bernard Dobson said it would have "a drastic effect" if the Lilydale campus was sold off to other entities.
"Some of our students travel from Healesville and beyond, so having to travel to, for example, Hawthorn is enough of a deterrent.
"Added to this is that students that live far away enjoy places with a sense of community — and the Lilydale campus provides that. This is something they're used to, so if that was taken away I could see them turning their backs on it altogether."
His comments follow projections by Yarra Ranges mayor Graham Warren that the Lilydale site may only fetch a quarter of its $27.5 million price tag should it be sold to another education provider.
Cr Warren said Swinburne must now decide whether to sell the site to an external body , receiving a greater return to prop up its other campuses, or another educational provider — which he believes is its "moral obligation".
"It's hard to put a figure on it, but I'd say they would only be getting a quarter of its value should it sell to another educational institution," Cr Warren said.
"Swinburne would find it difficult to sell in its current [educational use] zoning, and will want that changed. If the site is rezoned to, for example, a residential zone, they would be able to sell for a much higher price."
Cr Warren said the Box Hill institute, Holmesglen TAFE and Deakin University had all shown interest in the site, but would not say who was a front-runner.
The Weekly can also reveal that from 1992 to 2010, Swinburne was obliged under state legislation to "foster participation in a university of technology of persons living or working in the outer eastern region of Melbourne".
However, this section of the Swinburne University of Technology Act was removed in 2010 as part of wider state government changes — which means it is now not obliged to keep education at Lilydale.
"Swinburne found a loophole, and they've effectively got a get out of jail free card now," Cr Warren said.
A public forum will be held at Mt Lilydale Mercy College tomorrow for residents to hear about the future of tertiary education and training in the outer east.
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