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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5057

Mr OAKESHOTT (9:54 AM) —I start with a quote from a report released this week by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations entitled Regional participation: the role of socioeconomic status and access. It reads:

The Bradley Review of Higher Education observed that three groups remain significantly under-represented in higher education: students from low socioeconomic backgrounds; students from regional and remote areas; and Indigenous students. It is the second of these groups that is the focus of this study. Of the Australian population aged 15-64 years, 27.9 per cent live in regional or remote areas, whereas only 19.2 per cent of the higher education student population indicate that they are from regional or remote backgrounds.

Critically, and I complete the quote:

Regional and remote access and participation rates, as measured by administrative data, have deteriorated over the last five years.

For all we have heard in this place about mining tax and about CPRS, if there is a crisis of confidence on our hands right now it is from regional students and their inability to access, for whatever reasons, education pathways within Australia. I urge all members to treat this as the emergency item that we have to deal with, because the data from government is quite clearly saying that over the past five years there has not just been a decline but a deterioration in access for regional and rural students into education pathways.

I make a point I have made before, that place matters. I urge the department of education and everyone here to consider the importance of place for regional students. If you need an example, the Attorney-General’s Department is doing some excellent work in regard to place based thinking. I do not think at the moment the department of education has got the firepower in relation to place based thinking. There is still silo thinking around what vocational education and university education are and how they work in with FaHCSIA and other departments like A-G’s. I would urge greater drive for place based thinking. This report generally starts to rule out access and proximity and the importance of regional student engagement. It does matter. Bricks and mortar campuses do matter in regional areas and there is data to support that that is counter to this report.

The third point I would like to make is that I thank the minister very much for the funding in regard to our area starting to lead the nation on this pathway question around vocational education and university access. We are happy to play that lead role for the nation but it is concerning that we are now doing it in the context of a crisis of confidence from regional students disengaging from the education process over the last five years. That should be the talking point today in this parliament. (Time expired)