Last week, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education, Andrew Gee, convened the first of the Regional Universities Roundtables with Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors from ten of Australia’s major regional universities.
The Regional Universities Roundtables were initiated by Minister Gee to provide Australia’s major regional universities with a unique opportunity to discuss issues currently impacting country universities and communities, particularly in light of COVID-19 and the Government’s new proposed tertiary education reforms.
"The first Roundtable of the series focused specifically on the Government’s proposed tertiary education reforms," Minister Gee said.
"During the Roundtable, I heard that our country universities welcomed the increased focus on regional education and while there was, generally speaking, support for the proposed reforms, it was clear to me that the Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors present share a number of the same concerns about how the proposed tertiary education reforms specifically impact regional universities. They would like these concerns addressed.
There were several key issues raised at the Roundtable including that of the Tertiary Access Payment and the potential impacts of the proposed fee re-structuring on the rural community health workforce.
Tertiary Access Payment
The Tertiary Access Payment is a proposed $5,000 payment designed to assist school-leavers from outer regional or remote areas to relocate to undertake full-time high-level tertiary education.
"A number of regional universities, from Tasmania up to Queensland, are concerned that the Tertiary Access Payment may have unintended adverse impacts on regional university student enrolments, by acting as an incentive to move to metropolitan areas.
"The feedback from the Roundtable was that eligibility requirements for the Tertiary Access Payment should be refined, so that the payment is offered only to those students who enrol at a regional university.
Social Work, Behavioural Studies and Psychology
"Mental health professionals are vital to the health and vitality of country communities. A number of universities, including the University of New England, expressed concern that increasing the cost of studying social work, behavioural studies and psychology may have adverse impacts on the rural and regional mental health workforce, and the community.
"The National Disability Insurance Scheme is an Australian Government priority. The same is true of mental health - particularly in the face of drought, bushfire recovery and COVID-19. The Roundtable expressed the view that fees in areas of mental health and social work should be aligned with those of Allied Health (Band 2) to reflect a holistic approach to regional health care and support.
"The concerns and issues raised by the Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors during the Roundtable meeting are important and should be addressed. I have listened and understood their views, and will ensure these are fed into the broader discussion on tertiary education reform," Minister Gee said.
"I will also be taking all of the issues raised at the Roundtables back to the Nationals’ Party room to get the viewpoints of other country MPs on what our position should be.
"I would like to thank the Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors who participated in last week’s Roundtable - they play a critical role in supporting and educating our country students and communities, and their opinions are vitally important.
"I look forward to the next Regional Universities Roundtables, which will be held in the coming weeks."
Media Contact: Gabi Phipps 0400 917 405, Gabrielle.Phipps@dfat.gov.au