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Photo: Tanya Plibersek, via Facebook

Labor’s $10 billion-plus promise to prospective uni students

With a looming federal election tipped to go Labor’s way, the party is releasing policy specifics.

Having birthed the demand-driven system, Labor has explained how it will revive it: with $10 billion dollars, which it says will boost student numbers by 200,000 over 12 years.

It will also spend $174 million to give disadvantaged Australians the chance to go to university. The package would go towards mentoring, support and specialised programs aimed at boosting study opportunities in communities where graduation rates are low.

Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said a young person in Moreton Bay in Queensland is about five times less likely to get a degree than someone on Sydney’s north shore.

“We know that the capacity for hard work, we know that brains, are spread evenly right across our country,” she told reporters in Caboolture on Tuesday.

“What’s not spread evenly is opportunity, so we want to spread opportunity.”

Plibersek said it should be your ability, not your bank balances, that determines whether you get the chance to study at university.

The funding will also be used to encourage universities to collaborate with TAFEs and not-for-profit and community organisations in mentoring and outreach programs.

Plibersek said universities should attract more students from outer suburbs and country areas, as well as indigenous people and those with a disability.

She said regional areas should consider foreseeable demand in their communities to shape study options.

The deputy Labor leader pointed to an increased future need for local healthcare services.

“Why aren’t we training locals to do the jobs emerging in this local community?” she said.

University groups resoundingly embraced the proposal, citing equity gains as its chief benefit. The Group of Eight said poverty and disadvantage should not be a barrier for Australians to attend university. It praised the promise of funding being available for universities to partner with not-for-profit community groups to target students most in need.

Universities Australia underscored how the demand-driven system, in addition to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), propelled equity outcomes.

And, given uncapped student places, leading to greater low-SES participation in university, is one of the IRU’s pet projects, Executive Director Conor King is enthused about Labor’s plan.

However, some say education funding should be focused on VET, which has seen enrolments decline, rather than on universities, whose student numbers are higher than ever.

Craig Robertson, Chief Executive Officer of TAFE Directors Australia, welcomed the objective underlying the funding – greater low-SES university participation – yet noted that university is not for everyone: “…some students would be better off going to a TAFE, even if as a pathway to university.”

In that respect, he applauded Labor’s intention to promote university-TAFE collaboration. “That’s what happened in the past, but those programs seem to have dissipated…I look forward to working with universities,” he said.

Newly-appointed education minster Dan Tehan used the opportunity to take his first education-related jabs at the opposition. “The programs Labor says are doing “terrific work” in helping disadvantaged people access education are, in fact, being funded by this government,” he said in a statement provided to Campus Review.

By this, he is referring to ‘$650 million to improve access to undergraduate courses for people from low socio-economic status backgrounds’; the Coalition’s ‘$152 million Regional Student Access to Education Package’; and ‘$16.7 million over four years to establish and maintain community-owned, regional study hubs across Australia to improve access to higher education’.

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