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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10062

Mr DRUM (MurrayChief Nationals Whip) (15:37): Whilst the heartfelt message of the previous speaker, the member for Dobell, indeed reflects a very serious situation, the fact remains that these reforms to higher education do not represent cuts to the university sector at all. What we are in fact seeing is that the $17 billion for higher education that we currently have in 2017-18 is going to grow by 23 per cent over the next four years, the period that we have in the out years on our forward estimates in our budget. In a sense, this is typical Labor Party posturing whereby they can somehow or other see a 23 per cent increase in university funding as a cut.

This government has been able to work through this reform process knowing that education accessibility not just in the cities but also in regional Australia is critically important. The government recognises that a gap does exist in university provision for remote students, who may wish to remain in their local areas so they can complete their studies where they have grown up. As part of the higher education reform package, the government will provide $15 million over four years to assist with the establishment and maintenance of up to eight community owned regional study hubs right across Australia.

Regional study hubs will provide infrastructure such as study spaces, videoconferencing, computing facilities and internet access as well as pastoral and academic support for the students studying via distance at partner universities. This support, provided by the regional study hubs to students, will address the government's aim of improving accessibility to higher education for students from rural and remote communities. In addition, regional businesses and employers will benefit from an increased pool of skilled graduates in their regions.

In my electorate of Murray, the coalition government has recognised a need to invest in higher education as well, with the University of Melbourne contracted to receive funding of $38.9 million for the period of 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2018 through the federal government's Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program. The University of Melbourne's rural health department will operate across a range of locations in regional Victoria, and its main campus, based in Shepparton, will therefore be a major beneficiary of this funding. As a previous speaker from the coalition mentioned, in the last three years of the Labor government, they proposed to cut more than $6 billion from higher education and research and also introduced the 3.25 per cent efficiency dividend. So, as a regional overview of these reforms, this portfolio supports the Australians living in rural and regional communities through a range of programs.

We also see the HEPPP will be reformed to deliver three funding streams to universities: a loading for each eligible SES student; performance funding based on success rates of low-SES and Indigenous students; and a national priorities pool to give a greater focus on rigorous evaluative research and to encourage collaboration between universities. The Australian government is also going to commit $24 million over four years for the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program, which will support 1,200 regional and remote students to undertake science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The scholarships are for undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational education students, and they aim to improve access to educational opportunities for regional and remote students.

Students in the regions will also continue to benefit from the investment of more than $280 million over the next four years through regional loading to support the cost of educating students in regional and remote Australia. We understand that over the last few years taxpayers have been funding education, which has grown at 71 per cent under the demand-driven system for higher education since 2009, and that this rate has been twice the growth of the economy. (Time expired)