Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has encouraged the federal government to act on recommendations in the Australian Universities Accord Final Report aimed at making tertiary education more accessible for regional and rural students.

“The Accord is a comprehensive report into our higher education sector and I am optimistic that the recommendations it puts forward would go a long way to improving Australia’s higher education outcomes,” Dr Haines said.

“This is a rare opportunity that the Government must grab with both hands. Implementing the recommendations could be transformational for regional, rural and remote communities.”

The Australian Universities Accord review was tasked with completing a broad review of Australia’s higher education sector. The final report makes 47 recommendations to improve the quality, accessibility, affordability and sustainability of higher education. The report recommends:

  • Creating a needs-based funding model for Universities
  • Expanding the Regional University Study Hubs program
  • Paying students to complete compulsory placements and training
  • Modernising the HELP system and improving income support for students

“As an Independent MP, my priority are the people of Indi and I want them to thrive and prosper. Accessible, visionary tertiary education can help us achieve this,” Dr Haines said.

“This is the blueprint we need for reform now and into the future.”

The report recognises that to meet future needs, Australia needs to double the number of students completing higher education qualifications by 2050, and that without flourishing regional institutions, accessible tertiary education is simply not possible.

“As a former public health researcher, I understand the challenges faced by regional universities and the Accord is clear: if we hope to achieve participation parity between students from cities and the regions by 2050, we need to urgently invest in regional Universities and TAFEs,” Dr Haines said.

“Increasing funding for the Regional University Study Hubs program would be a boost for regional economies and the workforce. There are already three university hubs in Indi, in Wangaratta, Mansfield and Corryong and I have seen first-hand the difference they are making, particularly for students who are the first in their family to go to university.

“I am supporting plans for further hubs in Benalla and Murrindindi and I am encouraging the government to fund them.”

The report acknowledges that regional universities shoulder more than their fair share when it comes to educating groups under-represented in higher education.

“The recommendations relating to a needs-based funding model for universities, paid placements, and changes to the indexation of HECS could make a significant difference to the issues I see in regional communities when it comes to accessing higher education,” Dr Haines said.

“A needs-based funding model could level the higher education playing field and be a gamechanger for regional universities and TAFEs that struggle to compete financially with institutions in the major cities.”

The report highlights poverty caused by unpaid placements as an emerging issue impacting students trying to balance study and paid work during the cost-of-living crisis.

“Mandatory unpaid placements are a burden on so many students studying nursing, teaching and allied health degrees. In many cases, students are forced to choose between completing their studies and working to support themselves and their families. I welcome changes that make it easier to balance study and paid work,” Dr Haines said.

“Where you live and how much money is in your bank account should not determine whether you can complete your course. Regional Australians should not be disadvantaged by accessibility, everyone deserves to succeed in higher education.”

The report also calls for reform to student debt, an increasing source of stress for many students.

“I welcome reviewing the indexation arrangements for HELP loans. We must improve the system to work better for students struggling with cost-of-living pressures,” Dr Haines said.

“Failing to reform the university sector would undermine our workforce and our economy and would jeopardise our world-class reputation in the education sector.

“I encourage the government to take up the Accord recommendations; we have an opportunity to create a lasting positive impact on the educational outcomes and livelihoods of regional, rural and remote Australians.”

Read more the Australians Universities Accord here.


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