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Gillard says community service for HECS idea has merit
Rewarding students who do volunteer work by paying off their HECS debts would encourage young people to be more altruistic, education minister Julia Gillard says. But the Opposition says the scheme is “deeply flawed” and amounts to little more than middle-class welfare. Under the proposal, first mooted at last year’s 2020 summit, students could work off their HECS debt by joining a community corps and undertaking jobs such as delivering meals on wheels, working for youth services or helping the disabled. The average student finishes university with a $12,000 debt, which takes about a decade to repay. “I think all Australians, but certainly the business sector and the welfare sector, say this has merit,” Gillard said. “It’s an idea that deserves serious consideration.” The cost of managing the scheme wouldn’t outweigh its benefits, Ms Gillard said. But Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the community corps proposal would only assist well-off students who lived with their parents and therefore had the time to volunteer. “Struggling students ... are working in what spare time they have to pay rent while studying.” The plan amounted to middle-class welfare, he said. The community corps would also act as a disincentive to volunteers who offer their time for free out of a genuine desire to help the community. “HECS is already a generous scheme recognised around the world as a model to emulate ... It doesn’t need fixing,” he said. AAP
National Art School finally wins independence
The embattled National Art School has a new leader and its independence, and will keep its much-loved home in Sydney’s old Darlinghurst jail, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Anita Taylor, director of the Centre for Drawing at the University of Arts in London, will take up her appointment as director shortly. As an outsider, she is seen as independent of the political machinations that have surrounded the institution for years. The school, which has been under the umbrella of TAFE, will become a public company, which will put it on a similar footing to the National Institute of Dramatic Art. The artist Margaret Olley, who studied at the National Art School, said the appointment of an artist and administrator would underscore the school’s unique studio-based method of teaching. The art critic John McDonald, a member of the selection panel for the new director, said “the school’s independence is important because it has been completely crippled by the constant hassles that have been put in its way by the [education] department over the years”. The school, which moved into the Darlinghurst site in 1921, has faced more than a decade of uncertainty during which various plans have been floated to merge it with other institutions. The Herald also reports that another strife-torn Sydney institution – the Conservatorium of Music – will work with the St James Ethics Centre to begin “a process of renewal, and to revitalise the basis upon which [it] operates in the future”. The appointment of the ethics centre was approved last month by the Sydney University senate following two inquiries and numerous complaints over management style.
$1m pledged for CSU dental student scholarships
In a further boost to efforts to redistribute oral health professionals from big cities to regional areas (CR, 02.12.08), Charles Sturt University has announced that its dentistry students will benefit from scholarships totalling up to $1 million offered by the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. Four CSU students commencing in 2009 and a further four in 2010 will receive accommodation support over the five years of their dentistry degree, with prospects for 20 students in total to benefit over the period 2009 to 2017. CSU’s new School of Dentistry and Health Sciences accepts its first student intake this year into its bachelor of dental science and bachelor of oral health courses.

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