University changes must not increase the tertiary education divide

25 November 2014

In the push to have the tertiary education sector changes pass the Senate, it is vital that the particular interests of rural students and regional universities are not put at risk.

Students from rural and remote areas are already disadvantaged when it comes to access to tertiary education. Only 12 per cent of tertiary education is provided in rural and regional areas, and over half of the rural and remote students undertaking tertiary study have to live away from home. So, despite their lower incomes on average, many rural families have to pay some $25,000 a year extra for a child to relocate to attend university.

Regional universities provide access to tertiary education relatively close at hand for people living in rural and remote areas. They have a higher proportion of students from low-income families and assuming that 'market-driven rates' for courses are higher than those currently being charged, it will be those families who are most affected.

Where places in the metropolitan universities are concerned, rural families will have to cope with both the higher fees and the cost of establishing a second home in the city.

The NRHA rejects the notion that rural universities can find their ‘market niche’ in providing sub-professional programs. This would mean that professional programs would become even more city-centric.

The proposal for universities to contribute $1 out of every $5 raised through fee increases to Commonwealth Scholarships for students who are disadvantaged by location and/or socio-economic status would favour universities that can charge the highest fees rather than the universities with the largest number of disadvantaged students.

Overall, the Alliance is concerned that consideration in the Senate recognises the differential effect that the proposed measures in the Bill are likely to have on students in rural and remote areas, and the impact of the changes on the supply of health (and other) professionals to remote communities.

Failure on this will only be another setback for educational access and equity, and ultimately another barrier to national efforts to provide a fair proportion of health and other professionals to rural areas.

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