In the grand bargain between a community and a mining company at the heart of the social licence to operate, a key element is the social and economic benefits that flow to the local community as a result of the development.

This reflects the provisions of section 79C(1)(b) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW), which requires that a consent authority consider, when determining whether to grant consent to a development application for a mine, "social and economic impacts in the locality".

Those benefits can accrue directly and indirectly. One of the challenges for the local community is capturing and maximising those social and economic benefits.

The Upper Hunter Education Fund Inc has financially supported more than 120 young people in tertiary education and is a good example of the social and economic benefits that can flow from coal mines in the Hunter to the local community.

Since 2008, the Fund has given out more than $200,000 in direct financial support to assist young people through tertiary education in the Upper Hunter region. 

The selection criteria are primarily needs-based, but successful candidates must also convince the selection committee that they are serious about their education and are likely to succeed.

Education provides both individual benefits and broader advantages to the community and economy, which is also where those who benefit reside and ultimately work. 

It is widely recognised that there is a direct link between education and productivity, and the observation that broader economic benefits flow on from greater productivity. 

These benefits, both for the individuals receiving support and the community benefitting from the locality's economy, persist inter-generationally. 

The Upper Hunter Education Fund is made possible by the generous support of a number of mining companies operating in the Hunter, including Coal & Allied Community Development Fund, Anglo American's Drayton Coal Mine, Spur Hill Coal, Glencore's Mangoola Coal Mine, and Allan and Lyn Davies, as well as Sparke Helmore Lawyers. 

Applications for support are open to anyone living in the Muswellbrook or Upper Hunter shires (excluding Merriwa).

Visit www.upperhuntereducation.com.au to access the application form and to find out more.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 edition of Coalface Magazine.