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You are reading: Just the facts: Key changes proposed in the Job-Ready Graduates Package

Written by Dr Mel Henry
NCSEHE, Curtin University

On 19 June, the Minister for Education announced the Job-Ready Graduates Package of higher education reforms. The Package aims to address anticipated increased demand from school leavers, and the need to upskill/reskill workers who have lost jobs due to COVID-19. There’s a lot to digest, so here’s a quick run-down of the key reforms applicable to student equity.

Firstly, let’s look at the changes to student fees. Essentially, Commonwealth and student contributions will be “rebalanced” to reflect applicable teaching costs, and to incentivise enrolments in areas of national importance. English, mathematics, teaching, languages, nursing and agriculture subjects will cost students substantially less. Whilst law and economics, management and commerce, social studies, political science, behavioural science, communications, and creative arts will cost students up to 113 per cent more. Cheaper subjects may become more attractive to low income students, many of whom are more averse to financial risk (Raciti, 2018).

Especially relevant to equity practitioners, is the establishment of the Indigenous, Regional, Low SES attainment Fund (IRLSAF), which specifically broadens the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) to include Indigenous and regional, rural and remote (RRR) students alongside low socioeconomic status (SES) students. From 2021, HEPPP funding will be allocated according to eligible universities’ share of low SES (45 per cent), RRR (45 per cent) and Indigenous (10 per cent) enrolments. Compound disadvantage is also acknowledged, with greater weight given to students who fall into more than one group. In addition, a competitive Regional Partnerships Project Pool ($1.8 million per annum) will be established to support regional outreach collaborations.

Universities will be encouraged to attract and support RRR and Indigenous students through additional Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) and additional funding for regional delivery. CSPs will be guaranteed for Indigenous RRR undergraduate students, ensuring these students are prioritised without affecting CSP caps. Up to eight new Regional University Centres (RUCs) will be established (adding to the existing 25 RUCs), funding for regional campuses will increase, and additional funds will be allocated for regional university research partnerships. A Regional Education Commissioner will also be established to oversee and evaluate associated initiatives. These reforms will help universities actively prioritise RRR and Indigenous students, while subsidising the significant costs of delivering higher education in the regions.

RRR students will also benefit directly from several reforms. A $5,000 Tertiary Access Payment will be introduced for RRR school leavers relocating for university study. Relocating RRR students receiving applicable Centrelink payments will also qualify for the Fares Allowance after three months, helping to cover the costs of returning home between semesters. These payments may go some way to reducing barriers for RRR students, who face significantly greater expenses associated with relocation (Napthine, Graham, Lee & Willis, 2019).

These are just some of the proposed changes, with complex implications for equity groups necessitating further analysis. Many of the proposed reforms are also subject to the passage of legislation — a hurdle upon which we have seen many similar reforms fall. For now, the Package presents an intriguing insight into Government priorities and, no doubt, the remainder of 2020 will witness further deliberation on the post-COVID-19 future of higher education.