University students from regional, rural and remote areas have great difficulty making ends meet if they study in a capital city, according to a new study commissioned by the federal government.
The report, Regional Student Accommodation Assessment, by consultants Urbis, found that a tight rental market for student digs as well as private rental accommodation was compounded by large numbers of international students competing in the same rental market.
“The average cost of on-campus student accommodation in Australia is $233 per week over a 46-week contract period (including utilities and other compulsory costs),” the report says.
“This is around 25 per cent higher than the average student’s capacity to pay, indicating that most students living in student accommodation have incomes above the average and likely supplemented by government allowances and family support.”
The report feeds into the federal government’s wider Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, conducted by Flinders University emeritus professor John Halsey, which was released last week.
The Urbis report also found that regional students have responded to the cost pressure, with fewer going to big cities for university study.
“The proportion of students from regional areas that are studying on-campus has decreased from 80 per cent in 2006 to 63 per cent (in 2016),” it says. More broadly, according to the Halsey report, youth in regional areas need improved access to vocational education and training, which it says would be as valuable to many of them as a university degree.
It says that the “worth and relevance of VET is diminished and discounted when the exact opposite is required”.
It recommends that state governments increase the availability of TAFE colleges to regional students.
“TAFE has to be put back into the regions, closer to people, places and the heartland of much of Australia’s productivity,” Professor Halsey says in the report.
He calls for a national education strategy to be adopted for regional, rural and remote areas and co-ordinated by a taskforce.
Professor Halsey also recommends a dedicated training fund for education and training in these areas.
He points out that existing education providers in higher and vocational education, as well as training providers, should be “eligible to apply for funding under existing regional funding schemes”.
The Regional Universities Network, representing six regional institutions, has welcomed the Halsey report.
“We support the recommendation to better support regional students make successful transitions from school to university, training, and employment,” said RUN chair Greg Hill.
“Financial issues are a significant factor in students not being able to successfully complete tertiary qualifications, and more needs to be done to assist them.”
Professor Hill said he looked forward to the government taking up the recommendations.
La Trobe University acting vice-chancellor Kerri -Lee Krause said she hoped the report would be the impetus for the federal government to address the higher cost of delivering education in regional areas.
La Trobe, which has several regional campuses, particularly welcomed the recommendation for a new education fund.