BY Alex Sinnott
RURAL school leavers are struggling to overcome financial barriers blocking their path towards tertiary education, regional leaders claim.
Transport, accommodation and other living away from home expenses were cited as roadblocks during Tuesday’s Regional Higher Education Forum.
The forum, hosted by Member for Wannon Dan Tehan, was part of a national review into rural access to tertiary education.
Rural Industries Skill Training (RIST) chief executive Bill Hamill told the hearing in Warrnambool that living away from home expenses concerned regional parents more than university fees.
“Food, fuel, car insurance, phone bills…there are so many hidden expenses if you're a young uni student from the country,” Mr Hamill said.
“Some country families realise the cost of a university education early and try to dissuade their children because they don’t think they can afford it.
“So there’s subtle conversations around the kitchen table steering kids away from uni and the financial barriers play a big role in that.”
South West TAFE chief executive Mark Fidge spoke about his personal connection to regional universities and the role such institutions played in retaining young blood.
“I’m from Terang originally and studied at Deakin Warrnambool in the early 1990s,” Mr Fidge said.
“Back then, around 1991, there were really strong links with business and many graduates got jobs straight out of uni.
“Business links are so important because that’s what parents are looking for at the end of the day – will this degree result in meaningful employment?”
Following the Warrnambool forum, Mr Tehan and Senator McKenzie said all points would be taken into consideration with further regional centres to take part in the process.
The Wannon MP said the 18-month work stipulation to gain access to youth allowance was a common concern.
“The 18-month rule simply doesn’t fit in with the academic year,” Mr Tehan said.
“We’ve heard a number of important points relating to accommodation costs, travel costs and incidental expenses.
“These are common themes for families whether they’re in Ararat, Portland or here in Warrnambool.”
South-west Victoria has only 6.4 per cent of its population enrolled at university compared with the national average of 14.3 per cent, according to the 2011 census.
CAPTION: Education Department's James Hart, Wannon MP Dan Tehan, Senator Bridget McKenzie, and Social Services Department's Peter Huta. Picture: Rob Gunstone, Warrnambool Standard