Barriers to accessing tertiary education opportunities in rural and regional
Restricted access to education, especially higher education,
has been identified in the 'increasing social exclusion of many rural young
people', resulting in their being 'shut out of the global marketplace and
limited to local labour market opportunities'.
The Review of Australian Higher Education (the Bradley Review) stated
People from regional and remote parts of Australia remain
seriously under-represented in higher education and the participation rates for
both have worsened in the last five years.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations' (the
Department) submission stated that the underrepresentation of regional and
remote students in higher education is more related to their lower likelihood
of applying for higher education than their likelihood of receiving or
accepting an offer.
In responding to the Bradley Review, the Australian Government has set
the following targets for participation and attainment:
- that by 2025, 40 per cent of all 25-34 year olds will hold a
qualification at bachelor level or above; and
- that by 2020, 20 per cent of higher education enrolments at the
undergraduate level will be of people from a low socio-economic status (SES)
In relation to this second target, the Department's submission noted
that regional institutions will play an important role in achieving this
ambition, given the higher proportion of low SES students in regional areas.
However, the committee has heard during this inquiry that rural and
regional students face significant barriers in participating in tertiary
education. The committee has considered these challenges from two perspectives:
- the financial and social costs to students, their families and
their communities in accessing tertiary education opportunities; and
- the barriers to tertiary institutions providing tertiary
education opportunities to students in regional Australia.
This chapter of the report looks at access to tertiary education
opportunities from the perspective of the student, their family and their
community. The chapter starts with a brief overview of the tertiary education
alternatives for rural and regional students and then discusses some of the
financial costs to students accessing education opportunities. The context of
this discussion is that a large number of students from rural and regional
areas are required to move away from home in order to access tertiary
education, and this imposes substantial costs on the student and their family.
The chapter then moves to a discussion of the government assistance available
to students to assist them in accessing tertiary education. The chapter
concludes with a discussion of the financial and social costs to students,
families and communities of students moving away from home in order to access
tertiary education opportunities.
Chapter 4 of the report discusses the barriers to tertiary institutions
providing education opportunities to students in regional Australia.
Tertiary educational alternatives for rural and regional students
Submissions to the inquiry highlighted the lack of alternatives in terms
of educational alternatives in rural and regional areas. For example Gippsland
East Local Learning and Employment Network put the tertiary options in that
area into the following context:
If a young person from East Gippsland wishes to attend
university, they are forced to move away. The closest university, Monash
Gippsland, is two hours travel (one way) from Bairnsdale, 3 hours from Orbost
and even further from the Omeo Region and Mallacoota, so young people from
these parts of East Gippsland need to live away from home to study, even to
attend their closest university. The only viable commute would be from Sale to
Monash, which is a distance of 70 kilometres, with an approximate driving time
of one hour and ten minutes. Some Far East Gippslanders study in Canberra or
Albury. A portion of these students return to their communities on weekends to
participate in work, sport and community life.
...Locally, East Gippsland TAFE (EGTAFE) offers a range of
courses from Certificates I – IV, and a limited range of diploma courses are
offered. Degree level courses are not offered at EGTAFE. Most Year 12 completers
who are able to go onto tertiary study must leave the region to pursue courses
of their choice...
Similarly, the Remote Area Planning and Development Board, located in
Central Western Queensland outlined the limited training options in that area:
Students from this region currently have no option but to
leave the region to attend TAFE or University. The Australian Agricultural
College (Longreach campus) provides practical training and development of
people working in rural and associated industries. Areas of training include:
rural business management, mechanics and welding, building construction, sheep
and wool, goat production, cattle and horses, and station activities.
...A new initiative in the region, the Australian College of
Outback Tourism (ACOT), aims to supply training in hospitality and tourism. It
has a cooperative approach to addressing skills and training shortages in the
tourism and hospitality industries in the central west region. ACOT is a
partnership between industry, [the Remote Area Planning and Development Board],
schools and training organisations with the aim of building capacity in the
region and retaining the population through the local delivery of quality
ACOT is currently working towards becoming a Registered
Training Organisation (RTO) [but there is currently] no funding available for
an organisation to become an RTO.
Other issues relating to provision of such training in
Central Western Queensland, lies in tourism being exempt from current
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), training
funding. A proposal for a mobile trade training centre has been halted as
tourism is not regarded as a trade (and therefore not eligible for funding) and
yet tourism is one of the main industries and employers in this region.
The submission from Charles Sturt University stated that course
availability was the major factor in students choosing to relocate from rural
and regional areas to metropolitan universities.
The issue of course availability at regional institutions is discussed in
detail in Chapter 4 of the report.
However, the committee also notes the comment in the submission of the
University of New England that a 'large proportion' of students move to
metropolitan areas for 'social reasons' or out of preference for a metropolitan
university and not because they are required to do so to find the course of
The committee also spent time during the inquiry investigating distance
education options for rural and regional students. A number of universities
have a significant proportion of their students studying via this means. For
example, Southern Cross University has one third of its students studying
and the University of New England has 80 per cent of its students studying by
The committee notes the observation of Professor Bryan Rothwell, Head of
Campus, Tweed and Gold Coast, Southern Cross University that 'distance'
education is not only for the geographically isolated:
I have been with external or distance education - whatever
words you want to use - for many, many years. We really have to forget about
those terms. My colleagues here know exactly what I mean about this. The real
problem is that we are educating for circumstance - persons who have
circumstances which dictate what and how they study. The fact that we call it
'distance' education is wrong; it is not necessarily distance at all. It could
be just 10 minutes away. We are having to fund and deliver to persons who have
circumstantial difficulties. They can be anywhere, of course.
Further, the committee was told that many students want the face-to-face
experience. For example Ms Barbara Black, Director of the University of Western
Australia's Albany Centre, highlighted the importance of face-to-face contact
for students studying for their first post-secondary qualification:
School leavers often want more of a social interaction. There
is research...that for the first degree, particularly for school leavers, they
want the face-to-face experience. Usually after students have done their first
degree they cope better with online courses for postgraduate study.
The committee recognises that there is a place for distance education
study, but does not feel that it should replace on-campus study where that is a
student's preferred study option. The committee further explores the role of
distance and multi-model delivery of courses in Chapter 4.
The lack of educational opportunities in rural and regional areas means
that many students from these areas are forced to move away from home, either
to a metropolitan area or another regional area in order to access tertiary
education opportunities. The remainder of this chapter examines the barriers to
students being able to make this move in order to pursue tertiary education.
The main barrier which was raised with the committee and is discussed in this
chapter, is the financial costs involved with relocation. The discussion also
includes an outline of the financial assistance available to students and the
adequacy of this assistance.
In addition to the financial costs associated with moving away from
home, students, their families and their communities face social costs. These
social costs are discussed at the end of this chapter.
Financial costs of students moving
away for tertiary education
Overwhelmingly, the committee heard that the greatest barrier to rural
and regional students pursuing tertiary education was the financial cost if the
student was required to move away from home in order to pursue the course of
The Regional Young People and Youth Allowance: Access to Tertiary
Education report estimates the annual cost for students to study away from
home to be $15-20,000, plus a vehicle. Those costs include:
- Start-up expenses of $3-6,000 for travel and accommodation to
enrol, attendance at Orientation week and sourcing accommodation, bond,
computer, moving costs, setting up a house and a vehicle.
- Living expenses of $250-400 per week either in private rental accommodation,
or university residential accommodation, parking fees, phone, transport,
clothing sporting fees, work uniform and travel, health, socialising and
- Study related expenses such as printer, internet connection,
stationary, lecture notes and text books, short courses, and student
Travel home and travel and accommodation costs for family to
- Tuition fees including upfront TAFE fees and Higher Education
Contribution Scheme (HECS)- Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) fees (if not
A number of submissions also quoted figures of $15,000-$20,000 per year
for students to relocate for tertiary studies.
Some witnesses put the figure in the range of $25,000 or more.
It was not always clear if these figures included HECS-HELP course fees.
However, in relation to HECS-HELP fees the Bradley Review stated:
Any discussions of financial support must start with the
recognition that the current option to undergraduate students to defer payment
of fees or student contributions through income contingent loans removes one of
the most significant financial barriers to participation. However, the
additional living and study costs associated with higher education enrolment,
particularly for those students who need to move away from home to study, are
The committee accepts the findings of the Bradley Review that the HECS-HELP
removes one of the significant financial barriers to participation. The
committee intends to focus on those additional costs faced by rural and
regional students relocating for tertiary study.
In relation to TAFE courses, the committee does note that it received
evidence to the effect that the payment of up-front fees for these courses can
be a disincentive to participation.
However, it was also noted that the move towards income-contingent loans and vocational
education and training (VET) FEE-HELP scheme would assist these students.
Accommodation costs while studying
The main expense for students relocating to study is the cost of accommodation.
In addition to the expense of accommodation, the committee was also told of the
lack of affordable on-campus accommodation and the difficulty in sourcing
suitable private rentals for students.
The two most common options for rural and regional students discussed in
the course of the inquiry were on-campus accommodation and private shared
rentals. The committee got some indication of costs of different types of on-campus
or university residence accommodation at various locations around Australia:
- Residential fees at Murdoch University Student Village in 2010
will range from $95 per week for a double (share) room in a self-catered apartment
of 5-6 residents to $290 per week for a one bedroom apartment. Additional fees
include an application fee of $35; a one-off 'residential program fee' of $170;
a utility fee of $15 per week; and an annual security fee of $500.
- Residential fees at James Cook University's Western Court in 2009
were $260 per week for full board in a single room for the academic year (40
weeks). Compulsory additional fees included an administration fee of $220-300;
a Resident Student Association fee of $80; and a security deposit of $300.
- Fees at Aquinas College in Adelaide are $330 per week for the
academic year (fully catered). Other fees include telephone rental at $50 per
term; and application fee and bond of $625.
Submissions and evidence highlighted the benefits of the pastoral care
aspects of on-campus accommodation for students living away from home,
particularly in their initial years of tertiary study:
For a student who has just finished school and left home to
attend university or TAFE this type of accommodation is crucial for the
academic and social success of the student and is an ideal first step to
Submissions and evidence highlighted the limited availability of
on-campus residential accommodation.
Professor Phillip Steele of Monash University noted that one of the challenges
facing the universities is finding the capital to fund an increase the level of
Professor Andrew Vann of James Cook University noted that university had been
investigating the possibility of public-private partnerships to build new
residences on-campus, however, these plans are currently on hold.
Ms Karen Dickinson, Managing Director of Kimberley TAFE, spoke to the
committee about funding which has been provided for accommodation in the
north-west of Western Australia:
There is quite a large investment being made in the
north-west of Western Australia. We have residential accommodation. It is not
just going to TAFEs; it is going into educational facilities, so it can be used
for TAFE or for any other registered training organisations.
...It is the Western Australian government - the Department of
Housing and Works and the Department of Education and Training - and the
Australian government...I think the initiative is 'Safer Housing for Indigenous
Australians'. We will have 74 beds available specifically for students to come
in from areas and study; they will be at Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Derby
...We are negotiating some of the scope at the moment, because
often when groups come in there will be a mixture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous,
so there has to be some flexibility. Primarily it will be available for
Indigenous people coming in from the communities, but there will be
non-Indigenous faces there as well.
Ms Wendy Burns, Managing Director of South West Regional College of
TAFE, noted that a particular issue in relation to TAFE students is their age
and ability to self-cater:
...university students are old enough for self-catering
facilities, but TAFE students are younger and are not really old enough - or
have questionable abilities - to self-cater. They need supervision or whatever,
and that is quite expensive.
The committee also notes there is concern surrounding the increase in
universities outsourcing accommodation services to private operators. The
President of the Edith Cowan University Student Guild explained to the
committee that this arrangement could leave students in a tenancy 'loophole':
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, higher education
facilities are exempt because they are covered by the university's pastoral
care requirements, appeals processes et cetera. But when the university
outsources it, which has happened in the last couple of years, [students] are
suddenly not covered under the Residential Tenancies Act and they are not
covered by the pastoral care and appeals processes of the university. The buck
does not stop with the university; it stops with this commercial provider and
whatever is in their contract. If you complain and you do not like it, they
will kick you out and put in another student.
At its Perth hearings the committee was told that students sometimes did
not find out if they had a place in university residences until December the
previous year, or even early in the year they commence study. This leaves
students who do not get a place in a university residence limited time to find
For many students, the alternative to residences is private rental
accommodation, often shared with other students. Similarly to the situation
with on-campus or university residences, private rental accommodation comes
with start-up as well as ongoing costs:
If renting privately Bond (4 weeks rent) plus an additional 2
weeks rent in advance. Bond or deposit maybe required for telephone line, water
and electricity. Rent is payable for the full year even during the University
holidays whether they are there or have come home for the holidays. Set up
costs of the rented premises, such as furniture, household items and food from
scratch, purchasing a whole 'pantry' of basics to start off with...The cost of
phone calls, emails or text messages actually keeping in touch.
Private rental places can be limited and students need to compete with
others on the rental market, meaning that rents can be expensive.
The comment was also made to the committee that rental agencies look less
favourably on university students as tenants. Students also need to continue to
pay for rental accommodation through holiday periods when they return home if
they want to retain the accommodation.
Aside from the affordability and availability of accommodation for
students at their primary campus, the issue of the cost of accommodation for
students on block release or clinical placements was also raised with the
committee. For example, the University of Sydney in its submission outlined how
this impacts on its final year veterinary degree students:
The cost of attending rural placements appears a major
concern for most students completing their veterinary degrees. In their final
year, student 'interns' are required to spend almost half their working year in
the Sydney and Camden clinics...These units ensure our graduates develop an
understanding of rural community issues prior to graduation, but our surveys of
their learning experiences consistently identify that the costs of frequent
relocation are considerable and increased debt burdens on new graduates,
particularly as the relocations compromise their ability to hold part time
employment positions in Sydney to support their training. There is limited
financial support for these students during this important year of experiential
It was noted that for some courses assistance is available to cover
these costs, for example, medical students at James Cook University receive
some assistance with travel and accommodation while on clinical placement.
However, similar assistance is not available for nursing, allied health and
pharmacy students, who do clinical placements largely at their own expense:
Nursing students, allied health students, pharmacy students
and so on will undertake placements all around northern Queensland and indeed
elsewhere in the state and the country. They do so largely at their expense. If
you are dependent upon a minimum wage job in the hospitality industry of an
evening but you then need to be away for eight, five or two weeks, it puts that
employment at risk. You cannot give your share house accommodation up. You will
need to keep paying that rent. You may well have to also pay for accommodation
in the clinical placement site to which you are going.
The submission of the TAFE Directors Australia also noted a similar
issue in relation to block release for TAFE students:
The costs of travel and accommodation for students attending
universities away from home are prohibitive for many, possibly the majority of,
people in many regional and rural communities. In terms of TAFE provision this
affects not only those who move to larger centres for full time study, but the
majority of part-time students in the trade programs that require blocked
periods of institution-based training for rural students who cannot attend on a
daily or weekly basis.
In addition to accommodation costs while at university, transport costs
are also an important factor in a student's budget. Types of transport costs
which add significantly to budgets are the purchase and maintenance of a car
and the cost of travelling to and from home during semester or on semester
Witnesses and submissions described for the committee the reasons that
rural and regional students could not necessarily rely on public transport and
needed their own transport. For example, Ms Susan Matthew, the Careers Adviser
at Young High School, stated that the lack of public transport in Young meant
students were required to provide their own transport:
There is NO public transport in Young. We do not have rail or
coach services. The last remaining coach link between Young and Canberra was
terminated last year. Rail services are only available to Harden, (30km),
Cootamundra (50km) or Yass (85km) There are no buses which link with these
services to Young. This means that students have to have their own transport
which is an additional major cost.
The committee heard that students often felt it necessary to purchase a
car to use while studying in situations where public transport is inadequate
and students needed their own transport to ensure safe travel at night.
The committee also heard that not owning a car can, along with other
factors, impact on a student's ability to undertake work during semester. For
example, Ms Robin Muller explained that a lack of transport contributed to her
son's difficulty in finding part-time work:
He has experienced more difficulty than he expected finding
part time work to supplement his payments. The economic downturn has impacted
on the availability of part time hospitality work in the inner city area. He is
limited to the inner city because he does not have a car in Melbourne as it
costs extra to garage a car at his accommodation. His course has 25 hours a
week in contact hours, with some lessons finishing as late as 9pm as well as homework
and a fieldwork component. This also limits his availability for part time
In addition to the cost of purchasing a car, students would then need to
be able to fund the incidental costs such as maintenance and parking.
The committee heard in Western Australia that air travel was often the
only practical way for students to travel from home to university on breaks:
Albany is a 'mere' 400 kilometres from Perth, but if a
student is living up north the distances are huge and the only way they can
travel - apart from spending two days driving, if they can afford a car, or on
the bus - is by flying, and regional airfares in WA are a lot more expensive
than they are in the rest of the country.
Submissions also noted that, due to transport costs, students were not
able to travel home as often as they might like:
It is too costly for her to return home for the mid semester
breaks. Needless to say she misses all the family celebrations.
Income support for students
There are a number of different types of income support that are
available to students. This inquiry has principally focussed on Youth
Allowance, which is discussed in depth in this section. The other forms of
support that students may be eligible for are Austudy and ABSTUDY, and these
are discussed at the end of this section.
The committee has recently tabled a report into the provisions of the
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students)
Bill 2009 (the bill).
In that report, the committee outlined the income support available for
students through Youth Allowance.
Youth Allowance provides assistance for people aged 16-24 years old who
are studying full-time or undertaking a full-time Australian Apprenticeship. The
maximum rate of Youth Allowance for a single student living away from home is
$371.40 per fortnight.
Currently, eligibility for Youth Allowance is based on a parental means
test, or by applicants meeting criteria that demonstrate their independence.
Students can demonstrate independence through family or economic
(workplace participation) criteria. Family circumstances that qualify a student
for the Independent Youth Allowance include: being married or living in a
marriage-like relationship for at least 12 months; or having a dependent child.
Currently, for students to demonstrate independence through workplace
participation criteria they must:
(a) have worked full-time (at least 30 hours a week) for at least 18 months
in the last two years (30 hours a week for 18 months criterion); or
(b) have worked part-time (at least 15 hours a week) for at least two years
since leaving school (part-time for two years criterion); or
(c) have been out of school for at least 18 months and have earned at least
75% of the maximum rate of pay under Wage Level A of the Australian Pay and
Classification Scale in an 18 month period (fixed amount in 18 months
The amendments to Youth Allowance proposed in the bill would remove the
part-time for two years and the fixed amount in 18 months criteria as a means
of establishing independence for Youth Allowance. If the bill is passed, the
only workforce participation criterion which will be retained for students to
qualify for Independent Youth Allowance is to work for 30 hours per week for 18
months in a two year period. The committee notes the evidence of the Department
of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations that the intention in leaving
the 30 hours a week for 18 months criteria in the legislation is not to
encourage students to take a gap year:
The intention is to reflect that people who have been in the
full-time labour market for a few years, who later form an intention to study,
can return to study. Their independence as a full-time worker over a sustained
period of time should be the basis on which they are granted independent
Aside from the changes to the workforce participation criteria in the
bill, the bill would make the following changes to Youth Allowance:
- Increase the annual parental income threshold for non-independent
Youth Allowance recipients to get the maximum rate of Youth Allowance from
$32,800 to $44,165.
- The parental income reduction for Youth Allowance will also be
changed from a taper rate of 25 per cent per person, to a taper of 20 per cent
apportioned between the members of the family who are subject to the parental
income test. This change will reduce the effect of parental income on a Youth
Allowance recipient, particularly where the same parental income applies to
multiple recipients in a family. It will also mean that the point at which a
person's parental income disentitles them to Youth Allowance will be raised.
- The personal, income-free area for Youth Allowance and Austudy
students and Australian Apprentices will increase from $236 to $400 per
fortnight. This means that students and Australian Apprentices will be able to
earn up $400 per fortnight without having their payments reduced. The increased
income-free area will be indexed to the CPI.
- The age at which a person is automatically deemed independent
will be changed from 25 to 22 years. It is intended that the change will be
phased in, so that the age of independence will be reduced to 24 years in 2010,
23 years in 2011 and 22 years in 2012.
- All students receiving Youth Allowance or Austudy while
undertaking an approved higher education course will receive a student Start-up
Scholarship. In 2010, the scholarship will be $1,127 for each six months of
study – a total of $2,254 for the year. In addition to the student Start-up
Scholarship payment, some students receiving student income support will
receive a relocation scholarship to assist with the cost of relocating for
study. The scholarship will be $4,000 for a student's first year, and then
$1,000 per year, in subsequent years, up to four years.
- Merit and equity based scholarships will be exempt to a threshold
of $6,762 per year, and the threshold will be indexed.
The bill was amended and passed by the Senate on 17 November 2009. On 18
November 2009 the House of Representatives considered the amendments put by the
Senate and agreed to the following:
- The inclusion of a Review of impact of student income
arrangements in the legislation (the Review). The Review must start by 30 June
2012 and be completed within 3 months. A report of the Review must be tabled in
- That in terms of the remaining workforce participation criteria,
applicants will be required to work full-time, on average 30 hours per
week, instead of working full-time, at least 30 hours per week.
On 24 November 2009, the Senate considered further amendments to the
bill proposed by the Government. Those amendments were not accepted by the
Senate. The Government has introduced an amended bill (Social Security and
Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2]) into
the House of Representatives encompassing the original amendments made by the
Senate, as well as the proposed amendments by the Government which were rejected
by the Senate. Both bills are still before the Parliament.
A student may be eligible for Austudy if they are aged 25 or over and
- studying an approved full-time course at an approved institution,
- undertaking a full-time Australian Apprenticeship.
Full-time secondary education courses, graduate courses, undergraduate
courses, and some Masters, diplomas, and TAFE courses are approved for Austudy.
Unlike Youth Allowance, there is no independence test for Austudy. If a person
qualifies for Austudy they are considered independent. This means the parental
means test does not apply.
The maximum rate of payment for Austudy is $371.40 per fortnight for a single
A student may be eligible for ABSTUDY if they are of Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islander descent, or identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait
Islander person and:
- were aged 14 years or more on 1 January and are studying at
primary school, or
- are doing secondary school studies, or
- are studying full-time or part-time at a TAFE, university or
tertiary institution, or
- are undertaking a full-time Australian Apprenticeship, or
- are doing a distance education or correspondence course, or
- are studying for a Masters or Doctorate degree.
ABSTUDY recipients living away from home may receive and away from home
rate payment that is aligned with the Youth Allowance rates for students under
21 years of age. Students aged 21 years and over, living away from home to
study, can receive a maximum ABSTUDY Living Allowance of $453.30 per fortnight.
Other income support measures
As part of the proposed reforms to income support for students, the
Australian Government has also announced two scholarships:
- the Student Start-Up Scholarship will be available to all
students receiving income support through Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY.
The Student Start-Up Scholarship will be valued at $2,254.
the Relocation Scholarship will be available to students receiving
Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY who are required to move away from home. The
Relocation Scholarships are valued at $4,000 in the first year of study, and
$1,000 in the subsequent years.
The Student Start-Up Scholarship and Relocation Scholarship replace the
current Commonwealth Education Costs Scholarship and the Commonwealth
Accommodation Scholarship respectively.
Students receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY may also be
entitled to a range of other payments, including:
- Rent Assistance of a maximum of $111.20 per fortnight for a
single person living alone or $74.13 for a single person in shared accommodation.
Fares Allowance for tertiary students who live away from home for
reimbursement of the cost of the cheapest practicable form of public transport
to cover the cost of travelling to educational institution at the start of the
course and travelling home once studies have finished for the year. Students
may also be entitled to a return trip home during the year.
The Department's submission also includes information about the Living
Away From Home Allowance (LAFHA) which provides assistance to eligible
Australian Apprentices in their first three years of an Australian
Apprenticeship, if they have to move away from their parent's or guardian's
home in order to take up or remain in an Australian Apprenticeship or to
receive essential supplementary on-the-job training with another employer.
Australian Apprentices eligible to receive the allowance receive $77.17 a week
for up to 12 months, $38.59 a week for a further 12 months and $25 a week for a
third 12 months.
Discussion on the adequacy of income
support available to students
The committee heard evidence and received submissions that the cost of
students living away from home for study is so expensive, that many rural and
regional students are unable to afford to relocate without some form of financial
assistance, usually independent Youth Allowance. The following is an example outlining
the importance of Youth Allowance to a student who has relocated for tertiary
I write to you from the perspective of student, from a Rural
area, who had no choice but to leave home and study in a major centre
university. At present I am in my 3rd Year of a Dental Degree at Griffith
University and I receive Independent Youth Allowance. Initially I qualified for
Dependent YA, when I started my degree. After great financial struggles...I am
now in receipt of Independent YA. With absolute honesty I can say I would not
be at University if I did not have the support of Independent YA. I also
qualify for the Commonwealth [Accommodation] Scholarship. Even with these 2
support mechanisms life is no easy street! With a part time job, that folded
earlier this year with [Global Financial Crisis], I manage.
These are not costs that are faced by students in metropolitan areas who
can continue to live at home while attending tertiary studies. On this point,
the committee again highlights the evidence of Mr Kent Spangenberg, Principal
of Loxton High School, which it referred to in the report on the bill, which
illustrates this inequity:
...if you look at the inequity between two families on the same
income, -one in a metropolitan area and one in a rural area - the rural family,
by the mere fact that they are living rural, has to find some significant
additional financial income support or whatever for their child to access the
same quality of tertiary education as an urban family. There has to be a
baseline there or a benchmark around where that increased cost for accessing tertiary
education must be addressed in any sort of solution. It does not matter whether
you are earning $50,000 or $70,000 in an urban or a rural setting, the rural
person has to find additional moneys to have their child study in Adelaide.
As the committee stated in its report on the bill, it does not believe
it is appropriate that a welfare measure, such as Youth Allowance has become
the principal means of addressing the inequity between rural and regional, and
The committee must point out that receipt of Youth Allowance, even at
the maximum rate, does not cover students living costs. Students are
supplementing Youth Allowance with part-time work and parental assistance.
In addition, while representatives of the Department referred to
students receiving rent assistance of $111.20 throughout the hearing, the
committee notes that this is a maximum amount, and also notes the circumstances
in which rent assistance will be reduced:
...if they are a sharer - if they are living in a share house.
Like most social security payments, there are different rates depending on your
living circumstances, so, if you are living by yourself, the amount you get
might be higher than if you are living in a share household, on the basis that
you have the ability to split the cost of the rent amongst the renters. If you
have private income, or I guess if you are at a point with your parental
income, where all of your youth allowance has been withdrawn under the income
test and all that is left is your rent assistance, as the parental income goes
up, what is left of your rent assistance will slowly fade out. Rent assistance
is actually the last bit of your payment to be removed.
The committee was also informed of the inadequacy of ABSTUDY:
That income cap is really quite problematic for a number of
students. Often Indigenous students come from rather large families, and so
while the dollar amount might seem adequate in some ways it has to be spread
across an awful lot of kids. It is a problem. In fact anecdotally the
information is that Abstudy is hardly worth dealing with. A lot of people stay
away from it; it is just too hard. I do not have any strong figures about that
but clearly there is a very strong perception amongst our Indigenous academics
that work with us that the changes to Abstudy which were made a number of years
ago have impacted quite negatively upon achieving the goal of supporting
Indigenous students, particularly in the higher education space.
Submissions also commented that the travel subsidies on offer were
inadequate. For example, one submission stated that travel subsidies twice a
year were not 'worth the trouble/effort to apply for'.
TAFE Directors Australia stated that the travel and accommodation allowances
for apprentices were inadequate:
In most jurisdictions apprentices are given some assistance
towards their costs but this is not sufficient to cover the costs of
accommodation. There are several reports of young apprentices living in and out
of their cars while on block study away from home. For part time students other
than apprentices, there is no assistance available.
The committee notes that even prior to the announcement of the proposed
changes to Youth Allowance in the Budget, the eligibility criteria for Youth
Allowance were considered a barrier for rural and regional students in
accessing tertiary education. The Regional Young People and Youth Allowance:
Access to Tertiary Education report described the overwhelmingly negative
attitudes towards Youth Allowance of participants in that study:
Although payments are helpful, the eligibility criteria are
far too strict, and Youth Allowance does not address the needs of regional
Australians, creating a barrier to tertiary education. Participants feel
unsupported, ignored, and believe tertiary education is inaccessible for
middle-income regional families.
If young people are 'Dependent' Youth Allowance eligibility
is assessed against their parents' assets and income. Universally, participants
believe the income and assets thresholds are very low and unrealistic, as
middle-income parents above the threshold cannot provide $10-15,000 a year to
each child studying away from home...The Dependence criteria make income support
inaccessible for many regional families, forcing families to meet the
To meet the [fixed amount in 18 months criterion] regional
young people defer their studies for one to two years to work...or work
intensively during semester and university holidays. Participants identify many
issues with the Independence criteria...all participants express concern that if
young people defer, there is an increased likelihood they may not return to
tertiary education...Further, the 18-month period is too long, as most young
people who defer are not eligible for Youth Allowance until May of their first
year of study, causing significant financial burden, particularly with high
start-up expenses. Additionally, the income amount is too high, specifically
for young people working during full-time study. Some students have failed
university while working to cover living costs and meet the criteria. Finally,
many regional young people cannot find consistent, well-paid work to earn the
target amount, particularly in isolated and drought-affected communities. With
unnecessarily complex requirements, the Independence Criteria is a significant
barrier for regional access to tertiary education.
The committee has discussed at length in its report on the bill the
concerns that it has in relation to the proposed changes to Youth Allowance and
the impact that these changes would have on rural and regional students.
Those concerns centre around:
- The availability of work in rural and regional areas to meet the
30 hours a week for 18 months criterion.
- The impact of a two year deferral on a student's likelihood of
commencing tertiary study.
- The level of the parental thresholds and whether students would
be able to get an equivalent amount of support compared with if they received
Independent Youth Allowance.
- The nature and perceptions in relation to students being
'dependent' on their parents income.
- The lack of any adjustment being made to the Family Assets Test.
- The linking of access to the Student Start-up and Relocation
Scholarships to eligibility for Youth Allowance.
- The replacement of the Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarships
with the Relocation Allowance.
The committee does not intend to further expand on these issues in any
details and refers readers to the discussion of these points in its report on
In its report on the bill the committee indicated it would use its
deliberations for this inquiry to explore other options to minimise the inequity
for rural and regional students wanting to access tertiary educational
A Tertiary Access Allowance
The committee was informed of a number of different models of 'Tertiary
Access Allowance'. Such an allowance has been recommended in the Regional
Young People and Youth Allowance: Access to Tertiary Education report:
The Tertiary Access Allowance, a one-off payment for all
regional young people when they begin tertiary education, would support
regional young people in covering the start-up costs to relocate from their
home (including furniture, travel and a computer), costs which are estimated at
The ICPA has also lobbied for a Tertiary Access Allowance:
The Tertiary Access Allowance advocated by ICPA (Aust) is to
enable the student to access their place of study. Access would include
securing a place of accommodation, assisting with relocation expenses, travel
and other costs associated with leaving home to study. This allowance should
an annual payment for the duration of the student's full time course on proof
of initial enrolment.
a minimum of $6000 per year (indexed to [the Consumer Price Index]).
be classed as income and hence not jeopardise the student's eligibility
for existing support payments such as Youth Allowance.
a non means tested allowance due to current means testing criteria being
The committee explored with witnesses the feasibility of a Tertiary
Access Allowance and an appropriate structure for such an allowance. Many
witnesses were supportive of the concept of a Tertiary Access Allowance. For
example, Mr Gary Downsborough, Principal of Broome Senior High School and
Representative of the Australian Secondary Principals' Association explained
the difference that such an allowance would make to rural and regional
...A number of our students I know have not gone away to
tertiary education, have stayed in town and have got jobs around town. They
were good enough to do university. Their families may earn enough money to send
them away, but they saw it as a burden on their families, so they did not go.
If there were some incentive or assistance I believe more students from the
country would go on to university, and maybe set their aspirations slightly
higher or whatever.
If we lived in Perth, our daughter would be attending
university. She would probably be living at home. The government already gives
us a small amount of money towards accommodation and so on, which is fair
enough. But to get some funding to what are called the extra costs of running a
second home with the student away from your household would be beneficial. It
would help her focus on her work and not have to do extra work. We obviously
support her and she does not have to do much extra work. But I know that there
are families out there who see it as a burden. They do not have enough money to
actually do it.
Other feedback that the committee received on a proposed Tertiary Access
Allowance is that it should not be means tested:
We would argue that any solution that involves a country
student allowance based on a definition of rurality should not be means tested.
If you have a doctor in the country who has a colleague living in the city and
the country doctor says, ‘I will have to pay $30,000 or $45,000 because I have
two or three kids who are studying in the city,’ they will compare that with
their city counterpart and the decision will be pretty easy - they will go back
to the city.
An issue which was drawn to the committee's attention is that it is not
only rural and regional students who are required to move away from home to
access the tertiary education courses of their choice. The committee received a
very small number of submissions relating examples of metropolitan students who
would need to relocate to another metropolitan centre, or a regional centre, to
access the course of their choice. Below are some examples from these
We point out that these proposed changes to the Independent
eligibility test for Youth Allowance affects not just rural students, but also
some city students, particularly those who wish to pursue a career in a
discipline or course which is not often in their local city, eg Vet Science is
not offered in Adelaide.
My city-based son has been accepted into Charles Sturt
University, Bathurst to study a course that is offered at no other university
in Australia. Therefore, for him to undertake this degree, he is not able to
live at home and will need to bear not only the costs of attending university,
but the basic cost of putting a roof over his head. We are a middle income
family and we just do not have the means to provide him the necessary funds to
The committee believes that these students face the same inequities in
access as rural and regional students, and any Tertiary Access Allowance should
also cover these types of situations.
Some witnesses raised with the committee issues in relation to the
parameters of a Tertiary Access Allowance, in particular the extent of
safeguards on the allowance to ensure that students who received the allowance
were 'required' to move away from home to study. Mr John Clark, Principal of
the School of Distance Education, Charters Towers noted that a Tertiary Access
Allowance would need to be based on the student attending the nearest
university offering the course in which they had been accepted, otherwise students
would be 'picking and choosing which universities they wanted to go to based on
social or family reasons'.
Ms Jessica Baikie, a student at Launceston College, highlighted that any
Tertiary Access Allowance would need to be sufficiently defined so students who
lived within a commutable distance of a tertiary institution were not excluded
from receiving the allowance because they moved away to attend university
because the local university did not offer the course they wished to study.
Associate Professor Richard Murray, the Head of the School of Medicine
and Dentistry at James Cook University, also expressed concern that measures
not be developed that provide an incentive for students to leave rural and
For instance, we would be very much in favour of greater
income support and eligibility for rural origin students going to university
where they have to relocate. But we would want to be careful to make sure that
that was not sort of an incentive to go to Brisbane. That would, in a sense,
undo the things that are important about building regionally based production
and intellectual capital that is community-building, nation-building and
Other options which the committee considered include automatic access to
independent Youth Allowance for students required to leave home or a low
interest or interest-free HECS-HELP style loan to assist students with living
Automatic access to independent
Youth Allowance for students required to move away from home.
Many submissions suggested that the eligibility criteria for independent
Youth Allowance should be amended to provide that a person was eligible for
independent Youth Allowance if they were required to move away from home for
their tertiary course. The following are examples taken from submissions of the
reasons for such an amendment:
Our kids work harder and do more hours than most adults to
try to qualify for Independent Youth Allowance under the current rules. Why
make it any harder? The government should be looking at ways to encourage more
Rural and Regional students to attend University and put in place ways to
support them more readily – not making it more difficult. Any students wishing
to attend University away from home should automatically qualify for Youth
Allowance – no questions asked.
We have, and will consistently argue that rural and regional
students should automatically receive full Youth Allowance because of the
additional costs and barriers to accessing and succeeding in higher education.
These measures would significantly aggravate the current inequity between rural
and city students access and success at tertiary study.
All students from rural and remote Australia who have to
relocate for tertiary study should be automatically eligible for the
independent rate of Youth Allowance.
Rural and remote students face extreme financial and
emotional hardships in their endeavour to access and complete tertiary
education. Research suggests that these students are more likely to return to
their communities of origin, helping to serve the health needs of rural and
remote Australia. In order to build strong rural and remote communities with
better health outcomes and access to education, we must ensure that students
studying medicine, allied health, nursing, and other vital occupations such as
teaching, law and accounting return to rural and remote communities.
The committee notes that the Victorian Parliamentary Committee in its Inquiry
into Geographical Differences in the Rate in which Victorian Students
Participate in Higher Education recommended that young people who are
required to relocate to undertake tertiary students be eligible to receive
Youth Allowance. The Victorian Parliamentary Committee concluded:
...due to the substantially higher cost of living away from
home, costs constitute a greater concern for young people from non-metropolitan
and interface areas. Many participants from rural Victoria argued that the high
cost of study, combined with inadequate financial support, were the most
important causes of geographical differences in higher education participation
The Committee believes that a fair and accessible system of
student income support is of fundamental importance...The Committee believes that
income support payments should be increased to take account of the costs of
living and relevant poverty indicators. It is also the Committee's view that
all students who are required to relocate to undertake tertiary studies should
be eligible to receive Youth Allowance.
The arguments for automatic access to independent Youth Allowance
outlined above centre on addressing the inequity of students being required to
relocate to access tertiary education opportunities. As the committee has noted
in paragraph 3.62, and in the bills report, the committee does not believe that
it is appropriate that students rely on social welfare measures as a means of
addressing the inequity in access to tertiary education options.
The committee's preference is for a measure that is aimed directly at
addressing the inequity in access.
Low-interest or interest-free loans
The committee also discussed with witnesses the possibility of low-
interest or interest-free, HECS-HELP style, loans being made available to
students as a means of financial assistance. The committee was told how this
system operated in other jurisdictions:
In the United Kingdom you are able to access a certain amount
of financial assistance from the government that you pay back at zero per cent
interest. This system is similar to HECS; however, it is targeted at retaining
students by minimising disadvantage. This ensures that people who fall through
the cracks in the system can at least access some kind of assistance off their
own bat. The maximum anyone can get is close to ₤8,000 a year with the
minimum being about ₤3½ thousand. This loan system minimises disadvantage
and allows students to take responsibility for their own debt. A similar system
exists in New Zealand as well...
Witnesses expressed the concern that this option would leave students in
debt before they started to work.
Some witnesses also suggested to the committee such a scheme would not appeal
to students from low socio-economic backgrounds:
Our concern with that would be that a lot of rural and
regional students - particularly low-socioeconomic students - are debt-averse
anyway, so I do not think that a HECS system would assist them with overcoming
the barrier of incurring a debt. I do not think it would address the issue for
low-socioeconomic students to attend university. I think a HECS system would
assist some students. Students like me, who do not come from a
low-socioeconomic background, would probably be able to spend more time
studying rather than working. But I do not think it would be of any assistance
for students who are in absolute need.
The Bradley Review considered extending the income contingent repayment
HECS-HELP scheme as a means of providing additional income support. The Bradley
On balance, while the advantages of extending income support
with the use of income contingent loans is conceptually attractive there are
currently important questions associated with how this might best, and most
equitably, be adopted.
The panel is not drawn to making recommendations on the
introduction of a loans supplement scheme or using FEE-HELP as an instrument
for income support on the basis of the information available to it at this stage.
However, these are matters which would benefit from further consideration and
more detailed analysis of their impact on students.
The committee notes that the Victorian Parliamentary Committee in the Inquiry
into Geographical Differences in the Rate in which Victorian Students Participate
in Higher Education supports the conclusions of the Bradley Review.
Tertiary Access Allowance
One of the most significant stories in relation to the barriers for
rural and regional students accessing tertiary education opportunities was
related to the committee during the course of its hearings for this inquiry:
With regard to strategies to overcome some of the cost
burdens of going to university, again, the majority of property owners will buy
a house in Townsville and their child will stay there and then rent out the
other rooms to get additional income to support them at university.
The strategy of students whose parents are average wage
earners, or are basically wage earners, is scholarships. If they do not get a
scholarship then their third option is a gap year. Anecdotally, from talking to
a deputy principal who has been at the school for a while, the take-up rate
once students start gap-year employment is then diminished probably by another
50 per cent. Those students are usually lost to full-time employment because
their pathways and life choice change is around that.
As I have said, currently, out of our cohort of about 100, we
probably have 20 students who are eagerly awaiting scholarship notifications.
Probably 10 of those students have not even told their parents they have
applied for university, because they know there is no affordable way that they
can do it. Again, from talking to a deputy, anecdotally a lot of students do
that; they just apply. If they get a scholarship they will tell their parents;
if they do not get a scholarship, no-one knows anything about it.
It is the committee's strong view that students should not be forced to
lessen or stifle their ambitions for a tertiary education because of financial
barriers to accessing educational opportunities. The limited options for
tertiary education in rural and regional areas mean that many students need to
relocate to metropolitan or other regional centres in order to access tertiary
education courses. This relocation comes at great financial cost to the
students and their families. Until now, independent Youth Allowance has
provided a means by which students could, to some extent, lessen the financial
barrier that might otherwise prevent them from accessing tertiary education.
The potential loss of the fixed amount in 18 months criteria as a means
of establishing eligibility for independent Youth Allowance has brought into
sharp focus the fact that there are no specific means in current government
policy through which to address the inequity in access that exists between
rural and regional, and metropolitan students.
The committee notes that the proposed changes to the workforce
participation criteria for independent Youth Allowance will particularly impact
on middle income families in rural and regional areas. These are families whose
household income means that students will not be entitled to the full rate of
dependent Youth Allowance, yet the families do not have the financial resources
to fully support a child while they are living away from home to attend a
The committee is therefore strongly recommending that the government
take action to address this inequity. The committee has considered a number of
options for assistance that would be appropriate. As the committee has
indicated, this is an equity and access matter, not a social welfare issue. The
committee therefore recommends that the Australian Government introduce a
Tertiary Access Allowance for students who are required to move away from home to
access tertiary education. The committee believes that the Tertiary Access
Allowance should be equivalent in value to the rate of independent Youth
Allowance as the committee has heard that this amount, while not covering all a
student's cost, does contribute in a substantial manner to those costs.
3.94 The committee strongly recommends that the Australian Government
introduce a Tertiary Access Allowance for students who are required to move
away from home to access tertiary education.
The committee recommends that a Tertiary Access Allowance be structured
in the following way:
Be a total annual amount of $10,000, indexed to the Consumer
- Not be linked to a student's eligibility for any other income
- Be available to any student required to move away from home to
access the tertiary course of their choice.
- Not be subject to a parental means or assets test.
As noted above the total amount for the Tertiary Access Allowance would
be $10,000 a year. The Tertiary Access Allowance would be paid in instalments
of $5,000 at the beginning of the year, $2,500 at the end of semester 1 and
$2,500 at the end of semester 2. Payment of the Tertiary Access Allowance would
be conditional on the tertiary institution certifying that a student is making
satisfactory progress in their course. For the majority of students, this
requirement of 'satisfactory progress' would be met by demonstrating that they
had passed their courses. The committee recognises that for a small number of
students, grades may not be the best way in which to demonstrate 'satisfactory
progress', and so the committee believes that a student can also meet this
requirement if they satisfy their institution that they have applied themselves
to their studies through other means such as attendance, completion of
assignments and participation in practical components. The committee believes
that linking the Tertiary Access Allowance to a requirement that students
continue to make satisfactory progress in their studies will provide an
important check in the system.
In terms of the condition that a student be 'required' to move away from
home, the committee recommends that a student would not qualify for the Tertiary
Access Allowance where an equivalent course to the one which the student wishes
to enrol in is available at a tertiary institution within 90 minutes travel by
public transport from the student's home. The committee believes that where an
equivalent course is available to the student within 90 minutes of travel by
public transport from the student's home, then the Tertiary Access Allowance
should not be used to fund the student's choice to relocate.
The committee notes that it has previously recommended that the fixed
amount in 18 months criteria for independent Youth Allowance be retained for
students required to move away from home.
That recommendation was made in order to give the committee time to consider
the merits of a Tertiary Access Allowance in the course of this inquiry. The
committee considers that, in the event that the Government does implement a
Tertiary Access Allowance in the terms set out in this report, it will not be
necessary to retain the fixed amount in 18 months criteria for independent
The amount of $10,000 a year provides an approximately equivalent amount
of support to students as the independent rate of Youth Allowance, which the
committee understands is sufficient in most cases to contribute towards addressing
the inequity for rural and regional students in accessing tertiary education
opportunities. The committee recognises that $10,000 a year will not cover all
a student's costs associated with relocation. The committee has heard that
students receiving independent Youth Allowance also support themselves through
part-time work, and in some instances supplementary financial assistance from
parents. The committee does not intend that the Tertiary Access Allowance will
replace these forms of assistance to students. The committee also notes that some
students may also be entitled to dependent Youth Allowance, which will be of
benefit to those students from families with low incomes. The committee
believes that this is the proper context for Youth Allowance – as a social
welfare measure for financially disadvantaged students.
In the absence of a Tertiary Access Allowance along the lines set out in
this report being put in place, the committee maintains the position that the
fixed amount in 18 months criteria for independent Youth Allowance should be
Addressing the shortage of
As the committee heard in the course of this inquiry, it is not only the
cost of relocation that students struggle with, it is also the difficulty in
accessing suitable and affordable accommodation close to their tertiary studies
that is an issue for students.
The committee notes the comments from universities with regards to the
difficulties in accessing capital funds in order to establish more student
3.103 The committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate the
establishment of a capital works program to assist tertiary institutions to
increase the stock of affordable housing for students.
Support for students on clinical
placements or block release
An important issue raised during the course of this inquiry was the
financial difficulties that students face in covering expenses while they are
on clinical placement or block release. The committee believes that this is an
issue requiring further investigation with a view to implementing a form of
temporary income support for students while they undertake these important
components of their course. The committee does not envisage that this temporary
form of support will cover all a student's expenses while they are on placement
or block release but the committee does believe that some level of support is
3.105 The committee therefore recommends that the Australian Government
investigate the implementation of a form of temporary income support for
students while they are on clinical placements or block release.
Family and community impacts
The committee heard that there are significant family and community impacts
associated with students relocating away from home to attend tertiary studies.
Some of these impacts are financial and some are social. These impacts are
discussed in this section of the report.
Financial impacts on family and
Submissions noted that plans for a student to leave home to study were
often made a number of years before the student graduated high school and
factored into the family budget. For example, Ms Lynne Patten-Malouf set out
for the committee the planning and expense which went into her daughter's
decision to do medicine:
Financial planning for the families of country students, who
intend to study away from home at TAFE or university, is not done overnight.
Our family planning for Saada (her desire to become a doctor) started in her
year 10, with private school tuition fees, subject selection, extra tuition...and
final Med Entry [Undergraduate Medical and Health Sciences Admission Test]
course in year 12, all at added expense. It has cost us financially for her to
even get into Monash medicine, let alone the cost of her studying in
Melbourne...We also must consider our son Jakob who is also likely to go to
university and be there at the same time as Saada. Our family will have 2
students living away with associated costs.
It was also pointed out to the committee that money spent supporting a
student towards and through tertiary studies, is money that is diverted away
from local communities. For example, in its submission the South West Local
Learning and Employment Network included notes from a community forum outlining
the impact on the local economy of families supporting students:
[One participant spoke] on the amount of assistance required
for students studying away from home and the impact on the local economy. He
calculated that for about 1000 local students leaving home to study in the
City, @ $20,000 p.a., equates to $20M out of the regional economy.
Understanding the impacts of taking $20M out of the local economy cannot be
Social impacts on students and
In addition to the financial costs on a family and communities,
submissions and evidence also stressed the emotional toll that moving away from
home and their family and social support mechanisms could have on a student:
Regional students when they travel to the universities in the
cities suffer cultural and family displacement. They are travelling hundreds of
kilometres to attend university, thereby removing their source of financial and
emotional support. It is a major disincentive with no family around and no
family support, especially when things go wrong, which they invariably do at
In this context, the committee notes the importance of support services for
students. As Deakin University explained in its submission, this support comes
at a cost to the institution:
Of the students studying at Deakin from rural and regional
areas, a staggering 63% are the first in their family to study at university.
School leavers and others from rural and regional areas embarking on university
study for the first time require appropriate support. Deakin's experience is
that with [the] right support to engage students early in their studies, this
group goes on to achieve at the same level as other students. Residential
accommodation can provide a supportive environment that helps students become
engaged in their study.
RMIT University explained in its submission the package of measures it
has to support students once they are enrolled which include an online learning
lab, English language elective courses for students who may experience
difficulty with academic language and Peer Assisted Learning that supports the
transition into higher education and improve retention and success of rural and
As indicated in paragraph 3.41, the cost of travel home often meant
students did not get to return home as often as they might like to see family
and friends. Another reason that students were unable to return home was that
they had obtained work in the place that they were studying and were unable to
take time off to return home.
One of the key community issues highlighted throughout this inquiry, was
the importance of providing rural and regional students with access to tertiary
education opportunities, so that they would return to the community to work. For
example, Ms Anna-Jane Gordon of Rural Health in the Northern Outback (RHINO) of
James Cook University told the committee of RHINO's survey results regarding
the numbers of students wishes to return to practice in regional areas once
they had graduated:
...an online survey that was distributed to approximately 1,500
students studying medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy,
speech pathology, pharmacy, nursing, and sports and exercise science. We had
232 surveys completed. According to the rural and remote and metropolitan area
classification of postcodes for secondary schooling, 11 per cent of the
respondents were from an urban area, 46 per cent were from a regional area, 30
per cent from a rural area and 11 per cent were from a remote location. Our
research results have come from people who have faced the barriers to
university education and 96 per cent of them have reported that they would like
to return to a regional, rural and remote area upon graduation.
The committee also notes the work of the 2008 Graduate Pathways Study,
referred to in University Australia's submission, supporting the submissions
that the committee received in relation to the likelihood of rural and regional
students to return to regional areas following graduation.
The 2008 Graduate Pathways Study, commissioned by the Department, found:
By the fifth year following graduation, the majority of those
who grew up in a remote area of the country are living in one of Australia’s
state or territory capital cities. Most of those who were from metropolitan
areas were also living in capital cities. However, among those who grew up in
regional towns, less than half were living in a capital city by the fifth year
The committee also received some submissions from organisations
outlining their experiences with students returning to regional areas following
graduation. For example, Gippsland Lakes Community Health told the committee:
...we have been able to successfully recruit a podiatrist,
dietician, IT worker, health promotion and nursing staff over the past two
years – all who came from various regional areas and have moved back to the
country as new or recent graduates.
The committee also notes that while the 2008 Graduate Pathways Study did
show that less than half of the students who grew up in regional towns were
living in a capital city five years after graduations, this still means that a
number of graduates did not return to rural and regional areas following
graduation. For this reason, the committee also recognises that a number of
submissions and witnesses felt that if educational opportunities were not
available to students in the regional where they lived, and they were required
to move away from home to study, then students might disengage or disconnect
from their community and be less likely to return to work in the area once they
have completed their studies. For example, Mr Paul Barnett of the University of
Tasmania told the committee:
One of the things that we really want to focus on is the need
to support and develop regional communities - some of the solutions to access
to higher education that might involve, say, students from the north-west coast
in Tasmania all getting places in Hobart do not actually address those issues
within the communities because many students who move away from home do not
return to those communities. We are really keen to focus on links back into
those communities - work placements, practicum placements and whatever else within
our programs helps to maintain that connection.
As discussed in Chapter 2, the committee was also told of the community
impact of 'the churn of professionals' as families relocated from rural and
regional areas to metropolitan areas to enable students to access education
opportunities. In particular, this situation breaks the connection that
students have with the community and means that they are less likely to return
to the area following completion of secondary studies:
We know we have a churn of professionals in regional
communities. People come for a short time and then they will leave or because
their children need education they will go back to the city, or we have a
one-way drain with youngest and brightest people because they cannot come back.
This is a constant problem in our communities.
The committee appreciates the immense financial and social cost that
students moving away from home to pursue tertiary education options places on
students, their families and their communities.
The committee is of the view that it is not always going to be possible
for students to remain at home while pursuing tertiary education. However, the
committee has significant concerns that in order for students to access
tertiary education opportunities, families are considering relocation to
metropolitan areas not only for the students, but for the whole family. As Mrs
Jane Fuchsbichler of the WA Farmers Federation explained to the committee, this
is a matter that impacts on the vibrancy and sustainability of the whole
Also, from an education point of view, we are farmers, but as
farmers we want a vibrant community. The educational opportunities are not
there for our accountants - we have not got an accountant in Bruce Rock anymore;
we are a bit short of bank managers as well - or for all of those people. I
think we will lose the physiotherapist soon, because the children are just
getting to the stage where they will need to go away. If it is not possible to
have equal opportunity in education because of where we are located, we lose
the vibrancy of having other people in our communities. It is not just about
the farmers; it is about everybody in our community.
To this extent, the committee believes that the financial assistance offered
by a Tertiary Access Allowance will go a long way to assisting families to meet
the financial costs of a student moving away from home to access tertiary
education, and therefore allowing families to reconsider the need to relocate
from a regional area. Retaining families in rural and regional areas, and
maintaining students' links to these areas through their families, will
ultimately benefit rural and regional communities.
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