2003 – Improving access and equity for postgraduates from rural and isolated areas

Attachment: CAPA Paper

In 1990 DEET designated six equity groups, including students from rural and isolated areas, for targeted action to increase these students’ access to tertiary education. The strategies, set out in the policy paper A Fair Chance for All, were focused heavily on improving distance education as a means of raising higher education participation for rural and isolated students. Other strategies included improving awareness of tertiary education opportunities in high-school students, and the creation of what we now call ‘alternative entry pathways,’ or bridging courses, credit transfers, and non-traditional entry arrangements. A Fair Chance for All also encouraged the development of programs to assist these students with accommodation. This assistance, however, was focused on accommodation in halls of residence and colleges– the needs of older or postgraduate students, who often have families, were not mentioned.

Interestingly, since the introduction of A Fair Chance For All in 1990, little gain has been made in terms of increased enrolments of rural and isolated students. For example, DEST statistics show that rural students made up 19.37% of total new enrolments in 1992, and 19.51% in 2000.

For postgraduate students from rural and isolated areas the picture is essentially the same (see chart 1). Total postgraduate enrolments for rural students have hovered around 16,000 students nationally between 1996 and 2002, and total enrolments for postgraduates from isolated areas have dropped to 1788 in 2002 from 1981 in 1996. (Total postgraduate enrolments were 155,312 in 2002.)

Students from rural and isolated areas are often neglected as a higher education equity group. Frequently confused with distance education students, rural and isolated students are those whose permanent home address lies within the Rural, Remote and Urban Areas classification specified under the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia, or ARIA. This classification of postcodes as either urban, rural or remote is in turn derived from 1996 census data from the ABS.

The needs of rural and isolated students tend to be considered only as the apply to undergraduates–indeed the research for this paper did not turn up any studies on the rural and isolated postgraduate experience. Nor is there centralised support for rural and isolated postgraduates. Government schemes tend to be directed either at rural regions, or rural undergraduates. Postgraduates from rural and isolated areas must either attend a local rural university–if there is one, pick up and move at their own cost (unless they are lucky enough to win a scholarship which covers moving costs), or study by distance mode. Around half choose the latter option.

A far greater proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students than non-Indigenous students live in rural or remote areas. In 2001, 31.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were classified as rural students, in comparison with 18.4% of non-Indigenous students. In the same year, 15.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were classified as remote students, in comparison with only 1.3% of non-Indigenous students.

Rural and Isolated students must not be collapsed into the distance education category as a matter of course. The two categories are quite distinct. For example, a student could be studying at the University of Sydney through distance education methods, and be based in Melbourne, but would obviously not fit within the Rural and Isolated equity category. Further, a student from a capital city studying at a regional campus would not be considered rural or isolated (their home address being metropolitan), unless they moved to the rural area to undertake study, and changed their postal address.

Rural and isolated students are, therefore:

  1. students who come from rural and remote areas studying at either metropolitan universities or regional universities, AND
  2. distance students studying remotely when they are based in rural or isolated areas

Attachment: CAPA Submission

CAPA, the national peak body representing Australia’s 226,612 postgraduate students, welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Senate’s Inquiry into the Government’s proposed budget changes to higher education. Having concurred with the findings of the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Reference Committee report on higher education, Universities in Crisis, regarding the urgent need for increased public investment in the Australian higher education system, CAPA is disappointed by the insufficient additional funding announced by the Government.

Australian students and their families already pay more for their education than most countries in the OECD, and under this package they will pay even more, through HECS deregulation, extension of up-front fee-paying places, and the introduction of interest rates for FEE-HELP loans.

In this submission, we focus on the terms of reference set by the Committee specifically as they apply to postgraduate