On 28th August 2019, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan revealed a 10-year strategy that aims to bridge the divide between country students and their metropolitan counterparts when it comes to post-secondary school education.
Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF) firmly supports and welcomes the reforms and policy changes outlined in the final report. For twenty-six years, CEF has been dedicated to creating change for our students and communities and has been actively engaged in policy discussions since the announcement of the Independent Review into Rural, Regional and Remote Education in 2017, providing a comprehensive submission to the review conducted by Emeritus Professor John Halsey. As emerging thought leaders on post-school education and with increased work in advocacy, CEF was invited to attend the National Rural, Regional and Remote Taskforce, headed by Dennis Napthine to discuss and contribute to the final report and recommendations.
CEF believes that your geographical location should not determine your future, nor is a successful future ‘one size fits all’. The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (2017) states “high university attendance by regional students isn’t always the right indication of success.” As such, and as we see in our data from more than 5000 grant recipients, we strongly agree with recommendations to improve study options for students’ post-school, including improved access to VET sector training and regional study hubs. In order for such initiatives to be successful, the government must address internet services in regional and remote areas as too many communities continue to be impacted by the limited and sparse access to technology, creating yet another hurdle for students in these areas to overcome.
Over 64% of regional students worry about their financial situation, and almost 19 percent go without food and other necessities (Universities Australia, 2017). Statistics like these show the significant financial burden further education can have on students and their families. CEF has been told by our grant recipients that one of the biggest challenges they face is eligibility for youth allowance when moving 100’s kilometres from home to study. Therefore, recommendations to provide greater financial support to rural, regional and remote students such as tertiary access payments, travel assistance and flexibility around youth allowance criteria are perhaps some of the most critical changes needed.
Young people in regional and remote Australia aspire to pursue education after school at almost half the rate of metropolitan students (ACER, 2010). Almost 13 percent of parents in these areas don’t expect their children to go onto further education (Koshy et al., 2017). At CEF we are proud to have supported thousands of regional students, many who are the first in their family to go onto education after school, and then others who follow in their siblings’ footsteps, creating generational change towards understanding the value of education and aspiration. Exposing young students to successful older peers for support, mentoring and encouragement is just one of the many ways we can build aspirations and better prepare them for this significant transitional period in life. CEF is excited to be working on new initiatives to do just this and we look forward to seeing the ideas and programs from the government that will focus on building aspirations toward all types of further education.
With 25 university partners across Australia who we work closely with to provide additional financial and social supports to our grant recipients, CEF is very aware of the limitations the current Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) guidelines place on tertiary institutions. Without hesitation, we passionately support the recommendation to modify the HEPPP program to place a more significant emphasis on rural, regional and remote students as a priority equity group and we would also suggest that HEPPP funding move away from an annual allocation cycle. With many programs and partnerships relying heavily on HEPPP funding, last minute, year to year funding cycles limit long term partnerships and growth.
We wish to note that in principal we accept and understand the need to establish a Rural, Regional and Remote Education Commissioner. We also want to acknowledge that at times such positions can be more detrimental than beneficial, often simply a public relations position, causing more red tape, more reports and little action. Provided the position is imbued with the requisite authority to make changes and a difference then we believe there is benefit to the establishment of the position.
“Here at CEF, we are always excited to see recommendations for reform that will assist to drive our work in closing the education participation gap between country and city students. We maintain and are committed to our own views and recommendations set out in our initial submission to the IRRRRE. We believe that where you grew up or went to school, should never be a barrier to unlocking your full potential. All young Australians, no matter what their postcode, should be able to dream big and aspire to careers which reflect their individual talents and passions,” says CEF’s Acting CEO, Juliet Petersen.