Pic source: studiesinaustralia.com
THE federal government needs to act quickly to address barriers facing rural and regional students, according to National party senator Bridget McKenzie.
Last week saw the government pass changes to Youth Allowance eligibility, including removing the Family Assets Test and the Family Actual Means Test from the Youth Allowance Personal Test from January 1, 2016.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter labelled the move a win for farming families, whose farm assets will no longer be counted toward the means test.
Senator McKenzie, who chairs the senate's inquiry into equitable access to higher education, agreed it was a win, but said more needs to be done.
"It's very much a first step because that will only assist about 1200 families across Australia and we want to get a lot more kids into higher education," Senator McKenzie said.
"Young people are making decisions now about where there going to study, so the coming two months are crucial in them having an understanding of how they are going to support themselves, how their parents are going to support them.
"I want every single country kid that wants to go to higher education – whether they study at one of our great regional universities like Charles Sturt University, whether it's online or whether they want to move away – we've got to have a system that allows them that freedom."
Roughly half as many regional students attend university compared to their metropolitan counterparts, and regional students are twice as likely to defer their studies.
Senator McKenzie said access to affordable accommodation is still the major barrier for regional students.
"What we know is that access to affordable accommodation is the problem so how do we solve that?" Senator McKenzie said.
"Do we do that through the welfare system? Do we use incentives for universities around provision of accommodation? Does the government get involved in basic support of accommodation services?"
A final report, following a series of public forums earlier in the year, is set to be handed to minister Porter and education minister Simon Birmingham by the end of the month.
Ms McKenzie said she hopes to see some recommendations by the end of January.
"They [Minister Porter and Minister Birmingham] will be meeting with the backbench over the coming fortnight so they will be in no doubt of how passionately we feel about more needing to be done in this area," Senator McKenzie said.
"It's been a long time coming. Well done to the government but let's get on and solve the bigger issue."