Conclusions and Recommendations
...the key factor contributing to making rural education
different from urban education is geographic, and more specifically the need to
deal with a range of challenges, some real others perceived, created by
distance. While the impact of the tyranny of distance on Australian
society has been well explained...its significance is not yet fully understood by
policy makers. Distance has created a significant divide in Australia between
metropolitan Australia and rural Australia – a divide that is ever increasing and
resulting in inequalities that should not exist in a first world economy.
Education plays a key role in developing sustainable and vibrant rural
and regional communities in Australia. Access to educational opportunities in
these centres is critical for attracting families to, and retaining families
in, these communities. Educational institutions provide employment and
contribute to the local economy. The presence of educational opportunities
raises the aspirations of the community as a whole.
The committee recognises there is work being done to minimise the divide
between rural and regional students in relation to access to both secondary and
tertiary educational opportunities. However, this divide between rural and
regional, and metropolitan students still exists and the result is that rural
and regional communities are suffering the consequences both economically and
In relation to secondary school education, the committee heard of the
significant difficulties that students had in obtaining access to educational
opportunities. Predominantly the committee's deliberations centred on the
difficulties in attracting and retaining suitably qualified teachers to rural
and remote areas, but the committee also considered the considerable costs
imposed on students and their families as they attempt to ensure that their
children are able to have the same educational opportunities as students in
The committee heard stories of excellent initiatives making great in
roads into the literacy and numeracy divide between rural and metropolitan
students. The committee refers to the Quicksmart program described by Professor
John Pegg, which in a 30 week program raised children's literacy levels two to
four years. The disheartening aspect of the initiative was that it was
subsequently discontinued in the school due to a complete turnover of staff.
Such examples highlight to the committee that while there are many initiatives
in existence which could assist rural and regional students, however, because
there is no long term view, such measures fail.
The committee also heard of programs aimed at helping the most
disadvantaged students. The committee commends Edmund Rice Education Australia
for the outreach work and flexible learning centres which are providing
educational opportunities to students who have otherwise disengaged from school
altogether. The inspiring aspect of the program is its goals of social
inclusion and using an educational framework to bring students into the
However, as the committee was told, such programs are localised, and
resources are limited. As Mr Dale Murray of the Edmund Rice Education Australia
explained to the committee, while his organisation had received invitations to establish
outreach programs in other centres, as Mr Murray explained, 'there is a limit
to how much four of us can do at a national level with this'.
Obviously there is no quick and simple solution to these issues of
inequitable access to educational opportunities. Governments at all levels have
grappled with the issues of educational opportunities in rural and regional
Australia. The committee's concern however is what the committee perceives to
be a growing discontent with the level of secondary educational services in
rural and regional areas. In particular, the committee believes the churn of
professionals and their families through regional areas and the feelings that
students will be getting a second class education in rural and regional areas
are impacting significantly on those that remain in the community.
The committee therefore recommends that the Australian Government
commission an investigation of the barriers to rural and regional secondary
educational opportunities with a view to developing a long-term strategy to
address the inequity in secondary educational opportunities in rural and
5.9 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commission an
investigation into the barriers to rural and regional secondary educational
opportunities with a view to developing a long-term strategy to address the
inequity in secondary educational opportunities in rural and regional
5.10 In developing a long-term strategy to address the inequity in secondary
education opportunities in rural and regional Australia, the committee
recommends that consideration should be given to strategies for ensuring that
literacy and numeracy programs, once introduced into schools, are able to be
maintained within those schools.
5.11 The committee recommends that as part of the investigation into the
barriers to rural and regional secondary educational opportunities with a view
to developing a long-term strategy to address the inequity in secondary
educational opportunities in rural and regional Australia, consideration should
be given to whether the current level of funding under the AIC Scheme is
The majority of the evidence and submissions in this inquiry related to
the barriers that rural and regional students face in accessing tertiary
education opportunities. This focus was prompted by the Government's proposed
changes to Youth Allowance, and in particular, the tightening of the workforce
participation criteria for eligibility to independent Youth Allowance.
The committee repeats its view from its report on the Social Security
and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 that it
considers the proposal to remove the fixed amount in 18 months as a means of
establishing independence for Youth Allowance has been poorly targeted and
Access to independent Youth Allowance can be the determining factor in
whether a student from rural and regional Australia attends tertiary education.
There is no income support measure which specifically addresses the inequity
that rural and regional students face in accessing tertiary education
opportunities. The removal of the criteria for students to earn a fixed amount
in 18 months to establish independence will therefore disadvantage many rural
and regional students who aspire to tertiary education.
The committee believes it is important to recognise that this is not
just a matter of financial cost. These are often students who have worked
incredibly hard through their secondary school years to overcome the
disadvantages in relation to access to secondary school educational
opportunities described in this report. They are students who are prepared to
defer their tertiary studies for 12 months and work hard in their gap year,
often in three or four jobs, to earn the requisite amount to establish independence
for the purposes of Youth Allowance. These are students who often come from
farming families, families who are 'asset rich but cash poor'
and who would not otherwise qualify for dependent Youth Allowance, families who
have been suffering the effects of prolonged drought and are often not in a
position to go further into debt to assist their children to access further
education. These are students who are prepared to move away from home and their
communities and their support networks, to study and live independently, in
order to achieve tertiary education. These students deserve assistance.
In order to address this inequity, the committee recommends the
introduction of a Tertiary Access Allowance for students who are required to
move away from home. The Tertiary Access Allowance should be structured in the
be an annual payment of $10,000, indexed to the Consumer Price
- 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.
5.17 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 also heard that students who move away from home to attend
university also face significant difficulties in accessing affordable housing
close to campus. The committee understands that tertiary institutions would
like to address this issue, however, are often unable to access the necessary
The committee therefore 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.
5.20 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.
The committee also considered the significant financial difficulties
that students can face in meeting expenses while on clinical placement or block
release. 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 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.
5.22 The committee 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.
The committee also considered the barriers to students accessing
tertiary education options in regional Australia. Many of the issues that the
committee considered in this part of the inquiry related to the costs and
ability of institutions to provide a wide range of courses at regional
The committee accepts that a full range of courses can not be delivered
to students in rural and regional areas. However, the committee feels that
there are many positive and innovative solutions to this issue currently being
implemented or considered.
The committee understands that university funding and the structure of
the tertiary education sector is currently in a transition phase. While the
committee appreciates that some institutions may see benefits in these reforms,
other institutions did express concern about the potential impact that these
reforms would and this impacts on the ability of tertiary institutions to
continue and expand on the courses they deliver to regional areas.
5.26 The committee recommend that a review be undertaken in 2013 to assess
the impact of funding compacts, student-driven demand funding and the
Structural Adjustment Fund on regional universities.
The committee also believes that expanding the range of courses is not
the only means by which regional institutions can attract students. The
committee's view is that there is value in implementing measures which provide
incentives for students to choose to study at regional institutions.
5.28 The committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate
options for attracting students to regional institutions, and encouraging
graduates to work in rural and regional locations, through programs which
provide for reduced HELP-HECS liability.
Senator Fiona Nash
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