TAFE SA, private training providers and a university could join forces to form an educational precinct in the centre of Murray Bridge under a bold plan for the city's future.
Former Port Adelaide Football Club executive Brian Cunningham, the Murray Bridge council and industry leaders have spent the past year putting together an argument in favour of the idea.
Murray Bridge's existing training providers would come together at a single site – ideally the TAFE campus on Beatty Terrace – and promote alternative pathways to further education, with the eventual aim of adding a university campus.
Several companies said they wanted to set up courses in hospitality, security, disability or aged care in Murray Bridge, but could not due to a lack of facilities.
Regional Development Australia would work with local industries such as Australian Portable Camps, the SA Motorsport Park or Thomas Foods International to address skill shortages by developing specialist courses that could attract international students.
The council would change land zoning, improve streetscapes and encourage the development of suburbs suited to higher-income households. In a comprehensive report, Mr Cunningham and his associate Paul Dalby said the precinct could be the difference between Murray Bridge continuing on its present trajectory – fast growth but low incomes – or evolving into a more prosperous city.
"In this scenario, the civic, education and business institutions and leaders within the Rural City of Murray Bridge commit to creating a different future for Murray Bridge," they said.
"In this future, the city attracts and grows managers, professionals, business owners and leaders who can harness the natural advantages of the city to generate higher-paying jobs and greater wealth."
But they warned the whole community would need to buy in.
"It requires the entire regional centre to understand and be committed to a different future for Murray Bridge, and for all decisions to be made in (that) context," they said.
"Schools, businesses and families will need to encourage young people to aspire higher in their educational attainment and for local businesses to look local to find and grow their managers and professionals."
However, attracting a university to the precinct could be the biggest hurdle.
In the report, Flinders University said demand for higher education had not proven strong enough, and the University of South Australia said Murray Bridge was too close to Adelaide to warrant its own campus.
Murray Bridge Mayor Brenton Lewis said the education precinct was not entirely reliant on a university campus or TAFE staying put in the region, as the report also encouraged collaborations with industry partnerships, other potential education institutions, the Chaffey Learning Exchange and schools.
“We need to change what we’re doing, we need to mobilise our education,” he said.
“The strong recommendation that I pick up on as Mayor ... is that we can become a learning, earning community.
“Currently we’re a strong earning community, even though we’re a working class community generally ... we lack white-collar workers, that’s an issue for our future growth.
“Becoming a learning and earning community is not just a benefit to our workforce but also to our children; we want to retain more of our youth in this region.”
The community is encouraged to read the public report and provide feedback to council.
“Between now and mid-2016, we’ve really got to get hold of this, get a lot out of it, take some strategic direction as a community and get on with it,” Mr Lewis said.
The Cunningham review built on the work of four previous reports commissioned between 2007 and 2012.