Regional students have right to succeed

Building a clever and prosperous country also requires clever and prosperous regions, which is why it is crucial that we overcome the significant gap in educational achievement between regional, rural and remote students and metropolitan students.

The proportion of 25-34 year olds with a Year 12 education in major cities is over 80 per cent, compared to 60-70 per cent in the regions.

Almost 45 per cent of people in the same age bracket in major cities have a bachelors degree, compared to around 20-25 per cent in regional Australia.

These figures indicate unacceptable discrepancies which must be addressed.

Last year, Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham appointed Emeritus Professor John Halsey of Flinders University to undertake a review to identify solutions. 

Halsey’s report endorsed a national focus for regional education, training and research. The government’s response, published on May 30, endorsed all the review’s recommendations, and acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all policy does not work for regional education. The Prime Minister reinforced this on May 31 in a response to a question in the House of Representatives from the Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan MP.

While the Regional Universities Network (RUN), a group of six regionally headquartered universities, welcomes the government’s response, we believe that a more strongly coordinated approach, and sufficient and targeted resources, are required to realise the vision that every Australian student deserves the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live.

In his report, Halsey recommended: expanding the availability, affordability and accessibility of high quality work experience placements, dual VET/university options and two-year associate degree programs for regional students; supporting regional students to make successful transitions from school to university, training, and employment; and establishing a national focus for regional education.

In the 2018 Budget, some funding for new sub-bachelor and bachelor places was provided for regional university campuses and study hubs, and the parental income cut-off for regional students was lifted so that around an additional 2,300 students could be supported via Youth Allowance.  

While these measures are a step in the right direction, given the contribution of higher education to the economic, social and cultural development of the regions, universities need the flexibility to enrol as many students as they wish and put on new courses where required at regional campuses.

In 2017, RUN proposed a National Regional Higher Education Strategy. It includes strategies to support the provision of higher education in regional areas, increase the representation of regional students in higher education and support the role of regionally-based higher education providers in creating diverse and resilient regional economies.

Although the Government has indicated that it will report on progress on regional education in its yearly Regional Ministerial Statement, we believe that a National Regional Higher Education Strategy is essential to provide a robust framework for greater focus and better outcomes.

Prof Greg Hill, RUN chair and University of the Sunshine Coast vice-chancellor, and Dr Caroline Perkins, RUN executive director.