Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee

NSW Nationals Member for Calare and federal Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee has put the government on notice over plans to change university fees.

Mr Gee and The Nationals party room agreed that the changes proposed by the federal government would unfairly hit regional students and universities, something that was unacceptable to our organisation.

“In June this year I initiated a series of Regional University Roundtables consultations with country universities and key sector stakeholders to inform The Nationals’ party room position on the Job-Ready Graduates Package,” Mr Gee said.

“The Nationals party room met on Monday and has now adopted a number of policy positions in relation to the proposed Job-Ready Graduates Package legislation scheduled to come before the Parliament in the 2020 spring session.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that all of the measures agreed to by The Nationals are incorporated into the legislation as it proceeds to the Parliament.”

Grandfathering

In response to concerns raised by country university Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors about the implementation of grandfathering arrangements for students enrolled prior to January 1, 2021, The Nationals will be seeking the proposed January 1, 2024 grandfathering measure be extended indefinitely.

This will mean that no student enrolled in a course of study prior to January 1, 2021 will pay a higher Student Contribution Amount (SCA).

The Nationals have agreed that this change will ensure that part-time and online students, many of whom take over three years to complete their studies due to balancing work and family commitments, will not be disadvantaged. Many of these students reside in country areas.

Funding of social work, behavioural science and mental health studies

Given country Australia has been devastated by bushfires, floods, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic it is critical that regional communities have easy access to mental health services and support.

The proposed reforms in their current state, recommend that a number of social work, behavioural science and mental health disciplines be classified in the humanities cluster, which is the highest paying cluster for students. We believe this would only serve to further to increase the maldistribution of mental health workers in country Australia. It also has the potential to impact women and mature students looking to upskill and move into higher paid jobs.

The Regional University Roundtables revealed this to be a glaring and potentially detrimental design flaw in the proposed Job-Ready Graduates Package.

2019 Graduate Outcomes data shows that demand for mental health support, such as social work is 10 per cent higher in regional and remote communities – we need more country graduates to meet this demand.

Country people deserve the same access to mental health support as those in the cities. It’s a fundamental issue of equality. That is why The Nationals believe that social work, behavioural science and mental health disciplines should be removed from the humanities funding cluster and be realigned with allied health studies. The Nationals will be seeking a change to the current Job-Ready Graduates Package funding clusters. We intend to fix this design deficiency.

Tertiary Access Payment

The Nationals are concerned that the current design of the Tertiary Access Payment (TAP) will encourage country kids to leave their communities and move to the cities to study. This could result in a loss of enrolments for country universities which are already operating in thin and lean markets.

The Nationals will be seeking changes to the design of the TAP to ensure that this measure is targeted at supporting country students as well as country universities.

The Nationals’ policy position has been reached following extensive consultations with a broad range of education sector representatives. Their feedback is important and the path forward is now clear in delivering policy certainty for the sector.