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RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Rural and regional access to secondary and tertiary education opportunities
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RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE
CHAIR (Senator Nash)
Rural and regional access to secondary and tertiary education opportunities
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RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE
(Senate-Wednesday, 23 September 2009)
CHAIR (Senator Nash)
SIZER, Ms Terry
ANDREWS, Ms Jan
MEZINEC, Mr David
DENING, Mrs Anne Margaret
JOHNCOCK, Ms Jennifer
MIBUS, Ms Margaret Veronica
SCHUBERT, Dr Ruth
PAYNE, Mr Anthony David
OTWAY, Professor Neil James
PARKIN, Professor Andrew
Pro Vice Chancellor Zoellner
WEBB, Professor Charles
ZOELLNER, Pro Vice Chancellor Don
COSTELLO, Mr Garry
FORGAN, Mr Robert
FETHERSTONHAUGH, Mrs Jane
MILES, Miss Sasha
Ms Fetherston Haugh
VICKERY, Mr Richard
MAHER, Mr Jim
SPARKS, Mr Rod
GRAY, Mr Ron
NITSCHKE, Mr Wilf
DICKINS, Ms Merry
SPANGENBERG, Mr Kent
CROUCH, Mr David John
DIMOU, Mr Louis
- CHAIR (Senator Nash)
Content WindowRURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 23/09/2009 - Rural and regional access to secondary and tertiary education opportunities
CHAIR (Senator Nash) —I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee. The committee is hearing evidence on the inquiry into rural and regional access to secondary and tertiary education opportunities. I welcome you all here today. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but under the Senate’s resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request of course may also be made at any other time. Finally, on behalf of the committee I would like to thank all those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today for their cooperation in this inquiry.
I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim. I welcome representatives from the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services. Would you like to make an opening statement before we proceed to questions?
Ms Andrews —Thank you. As I understand the context for the inquiry, we as a department welcome the opportunity to be part of an exploration of some fairly burning issues for rural and regional access. If I understand correctly the Commonwealth government proposal by way of youth allowance setting and so forth into the future, this would be an improvement in terms of quantum dollars above the current situation and we would welcome that for reasons that we have outlined in our submission. I think the issue however and we will go to that in the detail of some of your questioning—
CHAIR —Have you lodged your submission with the committee?
Ms Andrews —I thought it had been lodged prior to this meeting.
CHAIR —If you would like to table your submission, that would be fine.
Ms Andrews —For us in South Australia the issue is the economic and social cost of not realising the educational potential and future of young people in rural and regional settings. Our submission speaks to that in detailed ways. I will go to some broad headings and then you may want to explore, in addition to your own issues, some further points.
It seems to us that one positive step that could come out of your work is a national cost-benefit analysis of the economic and social costs and benefits of acting further on the opportunities for rural and regional students to access tertiary education and senior secondary as a pathway into tertiary. We consider our rural and regional population to be a sizable share of our overall population. For reason of the barriers that we mention in our submission, and doubtless we will discuss, relatively few of them comparatively get access to further education. We know in this day and age that for every year of tertiary education an individual’s income is increased by a given percentage and their future opportunities relative to a changing world are exponentially improved. So essentially to stop a young person at 18 or 19 because of their geography from accessing tertiary education is a huge economic and social cost.
We have not done any studies in South Australia on this specifically but we would suggest that it is something that nationally might be of use through a Productivity Commission or whatever it might be process. It would require quite a scientific and detailed piece of work. That I imagine is the heartland of interest that this committee brings to the issue and then there are the subissues coming out of that. Just to touch on a heading level, I would like to talk, if there is an opportunity within your questioning, about case management, about hostels and transition for rural and regional students coming to town, about an aspect of the gap year and, as I have indicated already, about a larger cost-benefit analysis. Terry is up to her neck in the regional realities, whereas she informs me I have the blissful ivory tower view of state office, and will have a personally populated view on what is going on in the rural and regional area and some experience herself about that.
CHAIR —Ms Sizer, would you like to add to the opening comments or would you prefer just to deal with questions?
Ms Sizer —My three key headings that I would like to talk about are the impact of students’ access to university on our professional communities in the country, in particular teaching, health and police. We are not a homogeneous lot of people in the country—we are not all farmers. I would like to talk about that family impact, especially if you have more than one child wanting to attend not just tertiary but some sort of postsecondary training which does not necessarily require moving to the city but does require moving somewhere else. And I would like to build on Jan’s comment about gap year.
Senator O’BRIEN —Sorry we do not have the benefit of your paper in front of us. Could you give us a thumbnail sketch of the areas outside Adelaide where there are tertiary education opportunities for South Australians and describe what they are.
Ms Sizer —The University of South Australia has a campus at Whyalla. It has a very limited number of courses, which are outlined in our paper, and certainly none of them to a postgraduate level. There are a number of causes including basic nursing, the first couple of years of a degree in education and also some work done at Mount Gambier. We have original TAFE system but those campuses tend to be in major regional centres—Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Lincoln. We have very limited access to registered training providers. Generally if you are doing something through an RTO or some more specialist TAFE courses, you would need to come to Adelaide.
Ms Andrews —And Flinders University also runs programs up in Murray Mallee in nursing and things like that.
Senator O’BRIEN —Where was that?
Ms Andrews —Murray Mallee region—Renmark, Mildura, up into the border area.
Senator O’BRIEN —Do those facilities have adequate places where people can stay, hostels or other accommodation in the region for those who come from more remote parts of South Australia?
CHAIR —Which you did touch on, Ms Andrews. You may like to expand on it. I know it is one of your areas of interest.
Ms Andrews —In essence, the answer is no, not sufficient.
Senator O’BRIEN —No or not sufficient?
Ms Andrews —Not sufficient—very little, I should say. I am not familiar with the exact details. We could get a bed count for you, if that would help. It is one of the major issues of access. Also the angle I was going to come from about hostels is that for rural people—I will deal with Indigenous people separately—it is a big jump to come from the country to town. Their city cousins know much more about how to navigate city life and anecdotally we pick up a lot of feedback about dropout rates, emotional pain and kids going off the rails. A one-year transitional hostel arrangement—and I recognise the operational complexity and demands of that—would be very helpful for seeing that through and would give parents a lot more confidence in letting their kids go. That is a bit in addition to what you are asking.
Senator O’BIEN —You are talking about the city component in the main.
Ms Andrews —Not necessarily—wherever, but I was focusing on the city. I do not have the figures on bed space for the rural areas. We could get those figures for you but I believe it is not very much at all.
Senator O’BRIEN —What about in Adelaide? Obviously many students come to Adelaide?
Ms Andrews —Yes, it is a private market. If they go to the universities, some of them have residential colleges which have limited places and they are highly competed four. The rental market is expensive and the quality of it frankly is often not very good. The distance and safety of it is an issue as well. We leave all that to the market to manage and for kids at a point in life where they are vulnerable that is not necessarily always the best way.
Senator O’BRIEN —I think everyone has a memory of student houses in their time. I do not think they were ever the best accommodation in town. They were usually the cheapest and often as good or as bad as the occupants made them.
Ms Andrews —I agree and I have painful personal memories of this. When you are that young, you do not actually notice the mould. Again, anecdotally, we have some fairly horrific stories about owners renting properties and taking advantage in inappropriate ways. You can say ‘caveat emptor’ but it is a bit hard for families in the country to negotiate that from a distance.
If I may, I will just talk quickly about Indigenous people. The experience of the education department here is as follows. We effectively have residential accommodation, the Wiltja centre, for Indigenous students coming to Adelaide for secondary school. We have three regional hostels for secondary students. For Indigenous families in particular that offers a great assurance. We also have culturally appropriate housekeepers, minders and supports. That has, time and again, saved a young Indigenous person and put them into another year of study in the senior-secondary transition.
Senator O’BRIEN —How does it work in Adelaide for international students? What arrangements are there for them and how does it compare?
Ms Andrews —The international secondary students can come and be hosted by a family. We have an international education division, which reports to me, that does that. Finding homestays is very difficult. It is quite arduous for the host parents for a whole range of reasons, so there is a high turnover in that. It is hard work to get that accommodation. There is also a private market where perhaps the wealthier international students’ families buy apartments or housing, and there is an internal market within each of the overseas communities coming here that buys and provides accommodation. I would have to say that the international student accommodation is in a fairly healthy state. We do not have many reports of children and families not being able to find places.
Ms Sizer —Tertiary students certainly compete for the places at the private hostels. My experience in putting my children through the hostel system is that quite often you are on the waiting list because there is a balance between international students and local students accessing that hostel accommodation.
CHAIR —Does having international students and rural and regional students after the beds create any angst on the part of rural and regional parents who cannot get a bed for their child?
Ms Sizer —I have never heard parents say that. In fact, from my perspective and for a lot of parents, because a number of our country centres are fairly monocultural, that is a terrific opportunity for the children. I do not think you actually realize that until your children start there. Then you say, ‘Well, that was interesting.’
Ms Andrews —There is the potential for that resentment in urban Adelaide a little bit.
Senator O’BRIEN —Is there some preference for the internationals, given the money-earning properties they bring to the university?
Ms Andrews —Yes.
Senator O’BRIEN —Are the places weighted to give them some guarantee of a place?
Ms Andrews —I do not know. You would have to ask somebody in the tertiary sector about that. I do not know about weighting.
Senator O’BRIEN —‘Weighting’ might not be the right term. I am just trying to discover whether there are places set aside for them that are not available to others.
Ms Andrews —I am not aware of that.
Senator O’BRIEN —Have you got any idea of the raw numbers of rural and regional students travelling to Adelaide to undertake and/or complete their tertiary education?
Ms Andrews —No, I have not got them for tertiary students because we do not cover the tertiary level—others will do that. In terms of our schooling population, we have about 2,000 students a year completing year 12. Of those, about 500 or so will continue on to tertiary education.
Ms Sizer —It has been interesting from a country perspective, in that universities here, consistent with most of Australia, offer quite a good bonus system. That has helped to ensure that not so many children leave to finish their secondary education in Adelaide. You get great bonus points, so staying in the country is fabulous—you will get in. But then it is about whether you can afford it and whether your child is emotionally ready. In the current economic climate it is a minimum three- or four-year commitment. For a lot of us with two or three children, if you have not spread them far apart, the cost is very concentrated. In our submission we have outlined the cost of staying in a boarding hostel. If you double that for two children, which is my situation, you are talking about a minimum $700 a week just to have the two there. That is a lot of money, and there is no weighting on my salary because I choose to live in the country. It makes it an interesting dilemma. A number of rural families go through the same thing and say: ‘We aren’t a one-child family. We are a two- or three-child family. If we encourage that one to go then we really have an obligation to the other two or three.’ I am well aware of a number of my colleagues and friends who have actively encouraged their children not to go because of the ongoing cost that they could not guarantee.
Senator ADAMS —Would your children be eligible for the youth allowance?
Ms Sizer —No. There are two reasons for that. One is my income. The second is that my daughter chose a course that did not allow a gap year. There are a number of health science courses that you have to go into when you are accepted. She is doing radiography and you cannot take a gap year.
CHAIR —That issue has not come up. It is a very interesting point.
Ms Sizer —We were going to encourage her to take a gap year. My son went down straightaway and we thought, ‘If we get her to do a gap year at least she could get that allowance.’ She was only 17 and we thought it would be a good thing. It also meant she could not get a job. There were no jobs at home. I live in a very small country town.
CHAIR —Where do you live?
Ms Sizer —I live at Wirrabara, which has a population of 200 people. My husband is a local farmer.
Senator ADAMS —How far is it from Adelaide?
Ms Sizer —It takes me three hours, so it is not remote. Anyway, that was what my daughter wanted to do, so she had to go at that point in time.
Senator ADAMS —What other health science courses have the same criteria?
Ms Sizer —I do not know. We just got caught up in that particular instance.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —At which university?
Ms Sizer —Uni SA, city east campus.
Senator O’BRIEN —Presumably you have looked at the website, checked with the calculator and made clear that even with two children at university you are over the threshold. My experience talking to people is there are a lot of people who have looked at the bare figures without looking at where it actually phases out and who say, ‘I’m out,’ when there is quite considerable latitude in the parental income threshold for two children at university living away from home.
Ms Sizer —My daughter was able to access the country rural accommodation scholarship, and that has certainly helped. She could apply for that from the start of her second year, so she has had that for two years.
Ms Andrews —It might be appropriate to talk a bit more about professionals in the country.
Ms Sizer —Yes. As a regional director, 98 schools and preschools report directly to me. Obviously one of my key areas is around personnel and the recruitment of principals and leadership positions to those 98 schools and preschools. Over the last six years, probably, the difficulty we have found in recruiting professionals—and I have just recently met with the head of Country Health SA and SAPOL, the South Australia Police, in Yorke and Mid North, and we all have the same issue—is in keeping professional people in the country, people who are not farmers but are incredibly important and who offer something else to the country community. They are our police, our nurses and our health professionals.
If we ever talk about closing a country school, one of the reasons that many in the community jump up and down is because it adds up to how many families you take out of a community. People are telling me that they will not stay. Looking at the town, I have got five this year who are applying to move back to the city because they have children approaching secondary school age. They would be quite happy to keep them there for secondary school but they know they cannot afford to still be in the country when their children go there.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —I have heard exactly the same types of things. One family in particular that I have spoken to is a good example. The father is a principal and the mother is a doctor so they are key people in that community. Despite the fact that they live in the Riverland, along with all the other struggles going on out there, the thing that is making them consider moving back to the city is the fact that they have three kids about to start hitting university age and it would be cheaper for them to move into town. It strikes me that those regional communities are going to be hit twofold. All the evidence I have read suggests that the best way of retaining professional staff in country areas is training those who grew up there in the first place—allowing them to go off, get their training and come back—and if we do not, in the future it is going to have an even larger impact. I would like your view on this.
Ms Andrews —I can make two comments about that. Firstly, I agree that the training of country people to return to the country is really important, but I also think that one of the values and one of the reasons that people choose to live in larger centres is because there is a cross-section of people. There are not just country people that grew up in the country and have a country head set—there is also a really good mix.
My current view, as somebody who tries to recruit leadership people to schools and preschools, is that often what we do look for are people who have an understanding of country. That does not mean that they have had to have come from the country. Sometimes that ability to have new people coming into a community breathes new life into some of the communities. So I think that there is a mix of both. I think that both Health SA and Department of Education and Children’s Services run country recruitment scholarships for teachers and for nurses and health staff to enable country people to return, and it has been very, very successful. We have never had trouble filling those scholarships and they always have people, though they do not necessarily want to return to their own town. My daughter is going to Port Lincoln next year.
Ms Sizer —Adding to that, again I think that is something that some quite thorough research would show. Anecdotally, we know that kids come to town, do their study, sow their wild oats, and then want to go back to a country setting. So what are we missing out on by not enabling some of those young people to get the training bridge into the city and then back out again? You are really looking at quite detailed data analysis on trends in population movement over time.
Senator ADAMS —I have not had a chance to read your submission yet so I am just going from the evidence you have given us here so far. You talked about a cost-benefit analysis as a national issue. I come from Western Australia, from a very small community about 3½ hours from Perth. We have all these different categories—the remotes, the Indigenous, the small communities—where there can be somebody that is really bright that could go to university if given the right opportunities. And even in the regional areas they still do not have courses such as medicine and dentistry, though nursing is okay, so for some of those professional areas the students would still have to travel. So that analysis would have to be very detailed. What we often find is that there is no flexibility within a lot of these programs and that those remote areas are considered to be regional areas with all the support that they have got, but that is not the case. So this worries me and I think you would have to have very good guidelines for that particular research project.
Ms Andrews —Yes, you certainly would; it would need to be a very well thought out piece of work. And I am not suggesting that it needs to be that detailed. For example, our submission says that of our country secondary children who by virtue of their TER score gain entry to tertiary, only 40 per cent take it up. I am really talking almost at a quite crude level about what is the cost of the 60 that are not going on to do that to the national social and economic wellbeing?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Can I just clarify: 40 per cent of all year-12 graduates from the country are able to enter—
Ms Andrews —No, can enter but choose to—
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —can enter, but only 40 per cent of that 40 per cent—
Ms Andrews —No, sorry. Of all of those that get entry to tertiary, be it TAFE or whatever, only 40 per cent from the country go. That is what our figures at the moment show us.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —What percentage is that of all year-12 school leavers?
Ms Andrews —That is the same for all. Our year-12 school leavers are about 10,000 a year, and we have about 2,000 country and, of that, 40 per cent—give or take—would go.
Senator O’BRIEN —So it is 20 per cent, and 40 per cent of the 20 per cent, which is eight per cent.
Ms Andrews —Whichever way the numbers go, you are looking at quite a big falling off. Senator Adams, in response to your question, it is that that you analyse—what is the cost of that? And we are not just talking about kids going on to do medicine or law, as important as they are. Our education department is putting a great deal of effort at the moment into mixed pathways for TAFE and university training, starting as early as year 9 in secondary, because our kids are maturing earlier these days. The plan is for that to support country kids much better in the future and we have some case management models that are helping with that as well.
If you take a young person from the country going through one of those pathways, they might pick up some TAFE programs and courses—they get credit for that for their year 12—that are suited to their country context or their future career planning. You might end up having quite well trained farming or support services for farming as a result of that, instead of just relying on what dad knows—as good as that is—if they just stay in the country area. So it is not just to get kids to go to uni in the old model that I grew up with: it is all the other forms of training at the moment.
I also have to say that all of the international literature says that we will all retrain five times in a life for the new challenges that life presents—jobs or what have you. So you start to train those young people in staying open to learning all through their life. The research from agriculture as I understand it loosely, not precisely, says you will always get a small cohort of people from rural communities than are the leaders in that and will do that. We argue that economically we cannot afford for the others not to be doing that as well. By having them learn early that they can dip their toe in the water of tertiary training, cut and paste it, come back to it and go from it according to what the seasons and demands are rather than having to do it right at one point in time, they can develop a lifelong habit of study and learning that is patchworked together with their rural positioning—so they learn ‘distance’ but they learn when to come into town, or whatever it might be. That is good training for life and for our economy in the future as well.
Senator ADAMS —The only reason I used the example was that regional centres could not cope with that course so they were forced to go, if that was something they qualified for. On the accommodation issue, is the South Australian government doing anything to provide more hostel accommodation or are there any private providers?
Ms Andrews —For the schooling sector, for which we have the legislative obligation, we have four hostels of one kind or another at the moment. That is a significant investment. We also through our regional offices, such as Terry runs, do a little bit of case management of individual students. So that is quite an investment by the state government. For tertiary, that is left to the tertiary market.
Senator ADAMS —Do you know if they are increasing, as far as the tertiary sector goes?
Ms Andrews —I do not know.
Senator ADAMS —What process do you use to case manage someone?
Ms Andrews —We just have the individual teacher helping.
Ms Sizer —In each of our schools with a secondary component, each of our country students has a personal pathway plan. That is particularly important for our Indigenous students because we do have a way of bridging that accommodation issue in town. We case manage each student. It sounds terrible, but it is actually not that hard in most country schools. There is a year 12 cohort of only perhaps 20 or 25, so two or three teachers will look after five or 10 children each. We usually have that pathway mapped out. Through the region, we publish information particularly around tertiary education. We have just sent out information about country health scholarships for next year. We keep an eye out for those. We put forward aggressively to the universities our choices and we do it in November so that there are a number of students who, before they get their results, know that if they pass they will get a scholarship for teaching. So we do our teaching scholarships applications while the students are still at school. Our case management tends to be around an individual child with a personal learning plan.
Senator ADAMS —How do you deal with the new rules for youth allowance?
CHAIR —Do you want to touch on the gap year in your answer too? You both raised that earlier.
Ms Sizer —To be really honest, most of our teaching staff do not provide information on youth allowance because it is not actually within their gamut of skills, understanding and responsibilities. We are using the federal government Local Community Partnerships careers advisers, which are currently being re-tendered, to provide a careers advice service. They can provide, for some students, information on how to fill out the youth allowance application, what to do. The mayor of one of our larger local areas, Yorke Peninsula, spoke to 100 regional leaders the other day. One of the topics of conversation was the new Youth Allowance arrangements and the 18 months provision. There was quite a level of concern expressed by the professionals, and also the mayor himself, about making sure that we let our children go to the city to be educated and to get a tertiary education, but that we want them to come back. There is a view, very much from the professional group, that the 18-month arrangement is going to cause some significant issues. If you cannot get a job locally, you will have to leave home anyway. A lot of places just do not have that kind of job where you can earn $19,000 or whatever to be eligible, and certainly not over an 18-month period.
Senator ADAMS —And working 30 hours a week.
Ms Sizer —Yes. To be really honest, I think many of us encourage our students to work when they get to the city, to supplement their living expenses. I do not think you will find many people who argue with that. Most of us think it is a really good work ethic for our children to have a part-time job. We just do not want it to be excessive.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Even if you get the maximum independent rate, it is only $370 a fortnight.
Ms Sizer —Yes. You cannot pay for too much more on that.
Ms Andrews —Country students coming in have extra burdens in terms of the travel back to home from there. Perhaps in the future the sensitivity analysis of how parents are means tested can be looked at more carefully with regard to the fact that country people are often asset rich but cash poor. That comes into it.
To go back to the gap year, the gap year becomes a gap 18 months. That is a big disincentive. It is enough for a lot of kids to turn off. We have been putting such an effort in the state and nationally into retention, encouraging kids to stay on to tertiary education. Many of these kids are the first in their families ever to go on to tertiary education. All they need is 18 months out and money in the pocket.
Senator ADAMS —And you never get them back.
Ms Andrews —You never get them back. Again I am not saying there is a blanket solution, but there needs to be some clever thinking about how to structure the carrots and sticks in that arrangement
Senator ADAMS —In regard to the new gap here, are those scholarships available to be deferred if that student applies for youth allowance as well? How is that going to work?
Ms Andrews —We would make that happen for the education sector, for teaching scholarships, yes. The other ones I cannot speak about.
Senator ADAMS —I just wondered whether there was any requirement that they had to go straight in and utilise scholarship or it could be held over for that time.
Ms Andrews —It can be held over.
Ms Sizer —It can be held over and the advantage we have found with the education scholarship is that it guarantees the student employment at the end. For many parents in particular that is absolutely attractive.
Senator ADAMS —Is it bonded to?
Ms Sizer —It is not bonded but you need to do three years teaching in the country.
Ms Andrews —But if you do not, we cannot legally require the old bonded scheme to apply.
Ms Sizer —It is only $2,000 a year.
Senator ADAMS —But still it is a help.
Ms Sizer —Absolutely.
Ms Andrews —That $2,000 we estimate in our paper to be about the cost of the extra living expenses—personal toiletries and so forth which, if you are living in accommodation, you might need in addition to the fees.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —In your opening statement, Ms Andrews, you said that you welcome the fact that there has been more money. I want to clarify that not one extra dollar has been put into the pot. The way they have changed it simply means that more people will be able to access it. It is a neutral budget plan which, from my perspective, is probably the downfall of the system. I understand that there needed to be changes, but I think why should a young person have had to take even 12 months off in order to get the support necessary to go on to university when we know that regional students are geographically disadvantaged just by virtue of where they have been brought up?
Now we are suggesting that when you add up all those things not many kids are going to get a full independent rate, even with the start-up scholarship and the relocation scholarship added in. Then there is this issue, as you have rightly outlined, that perhaps the only option is to take this 18 months to earn the money. To average 30 hours a week in regional centres for low-skilled 17- or 18-year-olds is going to be pretty difficult. The way the legislation is currently drafted it is very strict. It is 30 hours a week; it is not 10 hours when the season is slow and 50 hours during the summer, if you are in a tourist area or when vintage is going on or harvesting is happening. Even that in itself seems to be a bit out of whack and has not necessarily taken into account the rural context of how low-skilled work happens.
CHAIR —The question?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —What is your recommendation through all of this? No extra money has been put in the pot. That may be the solution but aside from that, what do you think could be done to amend the legislation and to deal with some of these issues? You have said, ‘Let’s have a cost analysis of the benefits.’ I think that is a very good idea. In terms of making sure that the next generation, people who will be leaving year 12 this year and next year, are not disencouraged to go on to further education, what do you think we could do with the jigsaw as it is?
Ms Andrews —The answer to that is a patchwork of different solutions for different people in different settings. It is beyond me at the moment to cover all of that. That is why I would suggest, to start off with, grounding it with proper research that looks to the economic and social issues, because that would have to underpin any Commonwealth government funding and budget prioritisation process, as I understand it. Within that, there should be some further work on whether some work requirements are reasonable and what requirements there should be, having regard to the life realities of young people in different settings. So I cannot pronounce today—and it is not my responsibility to do so—on the policy positions on this, but you and we are raising issues that indicate some barriers to young people going on to further study. I think we agree that it is desirable in the broad for young people to go on to further study. The answers will be different for different situations, and there needs to be some more analysis underneath it to do that. I have highlighted that I think there is a problem with requiring 18 months of employment, in terms of the risk of students disengaging from going on to tertiary.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Does the department have any data about the impact? You have said only 40 per cent of people who have been given a place take it up. Does the department have any data about the return rate after deferral?
Ms Andrews —We probably do, but we have not pulled that out for today.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —That would be helpful in this case.
Ms Andrews —We can do that. So that is my answer. I cannot pronounce on it; it is really your role to come up with the policy position. We are highlighting that some of the things are not working as well if you keep in mind the goal of getting as many young people into tertiary opportunities as possible.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So you would not necessarily argue for the retention of the 12-month workplace criterion?
Ms Andrews —I think it needs to be looked at and analysed. Twelve months might in certain circumstances be quite appropriate. The number of hours in that time might be what you want to vary. I have not myself done the analysis of how those metrics were struck, so I cannot really pronounce on them today, but I am highlighting that there are some difficulties which seem to be against the overall goal.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Did the department feed into the Bradley review?
Ms Andrews —Yes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So these are the types of issues that were raised, obviously.
Ms Andrews —Yes. We mention the Bradley review quite extensively in our submission.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Okay, that is good. Can you give us a bit of an overview of where most students from regional South Australia come from before then going on to university?
Ms Andrews —Sorry; what do you mean?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Where are the main centres at the moment?
Ms Andrews —That they go to?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —No, that they come from.
CHAIR —The main catchment areas.
Ms Andrews —I have a map of South Australia in my mind. It is the north-east, the Murray Basin area, and the west, the Eyre Peninsula—Terry’s area—heading up into the north to north-west area. There are not enough students from the Aboriginal lands directly north. Believe it or not, there are some families from down south in the Fleurieu Peninsula and from the south-east—certainly the Mount Gambier area. So it is south-east, north-east, west and north-west.
Ms Sizer —Within my region we are under-represented from Port Pirie, and my understanding is that Port Augusta is the same. Students from those two more industrial towns are not as highly represented. If I look across my region, it is more likely that people from the more rural centres would go. Some of that is obviously a socioeconomic issue.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Yes. I will just pick up the point that you made about the income thresholds for the new parental income test taking into account this issue of being asset rich as opposed to having cash flow. One of the comments made to me, by a father who was frustrated with the situation, was, ‘I can’t just sell off a hectare to pay for schoolbooks or the next month’s rent.’ How do you think we could balance this idea of needing to be able to ascertain the parental ability to help fund and the issues with cash flow?
Ms Andrews —They will come to a calculation mechanism, done in the halls of Commonwealth government, with the various skills that they have in terms of a sensitivity analysis of the means test, which means the ability of those parents as opposed to a set of parents living in town in a number of areas. So it comes to mechanisms for scrutinising the financial claims of those families and for them to demonstrate what they have and what they do not have and for that to be tested. The Tax Office is fairly good at that sometimes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Is there anything that the state government is doing in light of the concerns that have been raised by South Australians in terms of other things that perhaps the state government could be doing to insure that we do not lose that transition from year 12 leavers?
Ms Andrews —The state government generally has an absolutely major priority in our state strategic plan on retention of young people into senior secondary as a pathway and then into tertiary. I have yet to see the latest figures but I think we are tracking pretty well on that compared to some other states and territories. There has been a huge effort within the department. I am not speaking for the Catholic Education Sector or the Private Education Sector here, but our department with 168,000 students or so, to make regional directors and their leadership groups all aware of the need to encourage people to come through. We have revised our senior secondary certificate and there is a personal learning plan, to which Terry referred in part, to ask students and their families to focus on where they are going and how they will get there. For the disadvantaged or at-risk populations we have a whole raft of specific measures that have been strongly supported by our social inclusion unit, headed by Monsignor David Cappo, by our Premier driving very hard on special provisions for special groups of people at risk, assessed according to their need. So there is no doubt that we are answerable to the state government in quarterly reviews with the chief executive as to how they are progressing against those standards. That particular approach of state development goals has been initiated and led very strongly by our Premier, and the departments that are responsible under that are responsible for reporting.
Along the way we have done a lot of research and have learned about the variables that affect disengagement for young people. We have a program called ICANs, as is always the way with catchy acronyms—Innovative Community Action Networks for inclusion of young people who are at risk of disengaging. There were four of those which the state government expanded in the last budget. It is an idea that the Australian government is now interested in and I understand again through the agency of our Premier and Monsignor Cappo at national levels. That engages business and the community, not just the education people. Teachers are not always the best people to engage young people to stay on in education. There is a whole lot of detail we can give you about that. There is a great deal of effort. At the input level, we referred to our scholarship scene for country teachers and the human resources around that to increase that. Our resourcing ratio for our schools is variable according to the levels of disadvantage that they have as well. So they are the ways in which there has been a major effort.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —I have two final questions. Have you thought much about this 90 minute travel criteria? For those students who are able to access the relocation scholarship, they would have to have proven that they have to travel more than 90 minutes. Have you thought about what impact that may mean for students?
Ms Andrews —Not specifically at this point; no.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —I guess the question is whether there will be—
Ms Sizer —No, the 90 minute one has not; the 30 hour one has. Most people on the 30 hour one believe that it should be more flexible.
Ms Andrews —More flexible so that it is an average of so many hours, without wanting to encourage people to exploit young people to work ridiculous amounts of hours. If you are working for AWB on the harvest at the silos, for example, your hours are intensive over four weeks. But the 90 minutes has not come up.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —The areas I was thinking of are Murray Bridge, Balaklava—those areas. If you are just under, are you seriously going to travel that far every day? I do not know. What impact is that going to mean for those? For Adelaide, whose metro area is quite small and metrocentric, our regional areas are not that far away, but it is quite a different mindset. The other thing I ask about—we have just heard this, so I have not had a chance to look through—was that in your submission you make the comparison between the year-12 leavers from the more metro education sectors and the rural areas in terms of that 40 per cent number.
Ms Andrews —I do not know that we have been as clear there as I have been verbally, but we can provide supplementary information if you want.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —That would be good. It would be good to be able to see that comparison.
CHAIR —I have a couple of questions before we finish up. One of the things that has been put by some of the witnesses is the issue of rural and regional student access—which also works in reverse if you are a city student who wants to go out or a regional student going to another regional area. It is the relocation issue, but rural and regional is the one coming up most clearly. The inequity in them being able to access tertiary education is different from the welfare issue of youth allowance. There should be some acknowledgement of the financial difficulties and other issues with access itself, and perhaps that should be accommodated through some kind of financial assistance separate from the welfare issue of youth allowance. Is that something that is being considered or you have a view on?
Ms Sizer —I think that that is the basis on which my comments about professionals in the country is built on. I think that is exactly the sentiment that people have: ‘I’m working in the country. I enjoy working in the country. I am committed to it. But it’s not about the welfare; it’s actually about how if I did a comparative job in the city I could have my children still living at home with me so I could still look after them and still provide some parental guidance that sometimes they need.’ It is no about the welfare. It is about the equity.
CHAIR —Would you mind taking on notice, if you can, whether you have any thoughts on how that kind of measure might work in terms of the quantum of funding that would be appropriate and how a model would look? It would be really useful if you could provide that to the committee. In the interim, the last question is on the gap year issue and the removal of the $19½ thousand over 18 months criteria. I understand from conversations that there are some people who have manipulated that particular criteria, but would it be appropriate for the committee to have a look at retaining that criteria with greater scrutiny of, as one of the witnesses yesterday raised, the actual amounts paid out by a business—especially if it is a family business—as well as an audit process of the student doing that work on an ongoing basis? Would it be worthwhile for the committee to look at that as a measure to retain if there were greater scrutiny to get rid of that rorting?
Ms Andrews —Yes, combined with greater flexibility to average the total hours of employment.
CHAIR —Yes. That is why I asked about that particular $19½ thousand criteria. There was no average hours criteria attached to that. It was very much an ability to be able to work it in.
Ms Sizer —To pick up that point, one of the discussions that we have had as a group of professionals in the country has been about not just having the young allowance based on how much you earned in that year that you took off from school but also having something that allows you to go straight from school to university and that says, ‘If you can show that over a certain period of time—even the year before you went to uni—even while studying, you had earned this amount, that is another way of accessing.’ That way you are not forcing people to take the gap year.
Senator O’BRIEN —Too easy to rort.
Ms Sizer —Too easily rorted? But it is certainly something that is being canvassed, and it says that you show every 12 months that you sustain that sort of level. This is coming from those country students that are at uni and working: ‘If I keep earning that amount each year, I submit my thing and I get something back.’
CHAIR —It is an interesting suggestion.
Ms Sizer —It keeps you there and keeps you passing, so it is sustaining, rather than a one-off over here that is almost not linked to the course that you are doing. For example, my daughter is doing radiography, and working in the pub was not going to do a lot for her.
CHAIR —I suppose the issue for this committee is to try to find some balance between any potential rorting and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To go back to the original point you are making, the whole point is about students, particularly from rural and regional areas, being able to access tertiary education.
Ms Andrews —And the value of that and the value of the lost opportunity.
CHAIR —True. Thank you both very much being here this morning. It has been extremely useful and we appreciate it very much.
Ms Andrews —Thank you.