Local, Independant and Effective

End silo approach and lift burden of regional students

Posted May 31, 2017


Cathy has called on the government to lift the burden from regional students’ shoulders by ending the “silo” approach to developing regional policy.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (18:34):  I rise tonight in this grievance debate to call on the government to put an end to the silo approach and to work across portfolio boundaries to lift the burden from the shoulders of regional students. I was inspired and moved by the 75 young people who came to my budget feedback sessions and the 65 other young people who wrote to me. They work hard to finish their education, despite the challenges they face. But the systemic drag puts them behind their metropolitan counterparts and stops them from reaching their full potential. As their independent representative I am determined their voice be heard in this parliament. Higher education for regional communities is not a single issue. There are multiple challenges across portfolios and a multipronged approach is the only way to find a solution.

Tonight I want to address three elements of this grievance: the need to increase the representation of regional students in higher education; the need to provide greater support for those transitioning between secondary and tertiary education, particularly when this includes a move from home to the city; and the need to ensure there is recognition of the workforce and economic development requirements of the community when we are addressing higher education.

We know there is a gap between metropolitan and regional communities in attending universities. Young people aged 15 to 24 years from rural and regional Australia are almost half as likely to be attending university as young people from metropolitan areas. This is not a new challenge. In 2008 the Review of Australian Higher Education drove home the point. People from regional Australia 'remain seriously under-represented' in higher education, even with rural universities, VET programs and public facilities in rural centres.

A 2003 report from the then Department of Education, Science and Training told us that around 40 per cent of regional students had moved to attend university, while only four per cent of the metropolitan counterparts moved. Online study is often presented as an option for regional students wanting or needing to stay at home but also wanting to continue their education. While I want to believe—and I was very amused by the comments from my colleague from Maranoa—the NBN ads that we have just been seeing on TV, that knowledge is not limited by space and time, that anyone can change the world from anywhere and it is easy to pass on these skills, my experience is, if there is no internet connection, then, simply, it is not an option.

If you are one of the 880 people aged between 15 and 24 who live, for example, in Mansfield, moving for university does not come as a surprise. Depending on what side of town you live, there is only a six kilometre difference between travelling to Melbourne or Wodonga. It is a similar story for those living in the smaller communities across my community. You have to move. While regional universities are part of the solution they are not the whole solution. Movement is not always related to a lack of a regional campus or course availability. Young people see their pursuit of study in a city area as an opportunity to grow up, to assert their independence, to meet new and exciting people and to have experiences that are simply not available at home.

Travelling to the city comes with its challenges. It is difficult to find jobs and build experience, and they cannot access an independent payment rate with Centrelink while they study. The 2017 budget's increase to university fees adds to this financial stress. But, according to Universities Australia, the biggest barriers for students are often related to issues beyond university. They cite pressures with health or stress, juggling work-life balance, the need to do paid work and overall workload as well as financial difficulties. A report from Education Training out West tells us students from rural and regional communities need more support during the transition phase from high school to university, with the most critical period being from December to March.

The biggest threat to the sustainability of rural communities is a declining population of young people. While we want to encourage increasing number of students from regional areas to attend universities in the city, the statistics show they are unlikely to return in a hurry. So for me the challenge is to bring them home. Young people in my electorate work hard to build their futures. They take up the challenge of moving away from home to study. Many hope to return to lndi once their studies are completed and bring back the experiences and skills that will enhance growth and vibrancy in our rural and regional communities.

To encourage this, I want our young people to come home. I want them to bring their skills and their vibrancy to us. But we need to assure them that there is an opportunity in their home communities. For this to occur, we absolutely need people to connect. We need those driving economic development to work with those developing a workforce plan. And when these things are driven by government policy, we need government agencies to talk to each other.

To their credit, the government recognise that there is a problem, and now, I believe, they have the opportunity to act. On 2 March 2017 the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, announced the appointment of Emeritus Professor John Halsey to lead an independent review into rural, regional and remote education. The review will foster the educational outcomes of regional, rural and remote students. It will provide recommendations to government on innovation and fresh approaches that will support improved access, the achievement of these students in school, and their transition to further study, training and employment. Good move!

On 15 March this year, the government announced the Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce, spearheaded by the Prime Minister, with no fewer than eight cabinet ministers, representing health, education, employment, regional development, infrastructure, transport, resources, innovation, industry and science. This task force will focus on closing the gap between the city and the bush. Following the establishment of the task force, Minister Nash was quoted as saying:

I think the comparison is pretty clear. A lot of our city students have the opportunity when they’re living in a metropolitan area to live at home and attend university. A lot of our regional students don’t, so they’ll be the types of things we’re discussing.

I wish the task force well.

Rural communities know better than most the importance of connection. They know that education, health and employment have to be addressed together, not in silos. I called on the government to implement these initiatives with the same thought processes with which rural communities approach challenges in their own communities. We ask ourselves: Are there any barriers—social, financial, geographical or economic—keeping people away? Have we included future needs?

I want to take this opportunity tonight to remind the government, in answering these questions, of another review they commissioned. In 2016 the government commissioned an independent review to examine the effectiveness of Regional Development Australia, known as RDA, in delivering the Australian government's regional agenda. The review was to make recommendations 'regarding its future scope, structure and delivery model, in light of developments in the Australian government's regional agenda'. I understand that the reviewer, Mr Smith, has provided his final report to the Minister for Regional Development and that the Australian government is seeking advice on the recommendations. We are very keen to hear the result, Minister. In Victoria, RDA committees comprise local leaders with broad and diverse skills and experience as well as demonstrated networks within their regions. They understand the challenges, opportunities and priorities within their local communities. So the RDA review and the RDA committees are really important for us.

My call to the government tonight is to join the dots. I say to the government: you have an independent review into regional, rural and remote education designed to support students to succeed in school and in their transition to further study, training and employment. You committed $15.2 million in this year's budget to creating six new community owned study hubs and expand support for work experience. You committed $220 million to the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages to help the regions. You have a program designed to build partnerships to ensure integrated and aligned arrangements for regional engagement and economic development. And you have established the Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce to improve the lives of rural, regional and remote Australians. So bring it together. Don't let these initiatives continue to feed into silos. The regional ministerial task force must bring these initiatives together.

In bringing my comments to a close, let me say that if the task force can do this then in rural and regional Australia our students, the future of our nation, will be able to get the education they deserve to meet the needs of our communities. This is an urgent cry.

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