Free university pathway programs have been very successful

Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese at University of Newcastle, Ourimbah Campus

Labor Party Leader, Anthony Albanese, Federal Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, and Senator Deborah O’Neill visited students at Ourimbah Campus of University of Newcastle on October 15 to hear about their successes through the NewStep, Open Foundation and Yapug enabling programs.

These are free university pathway programs helping students gain admission to undergraduate degrees even though they didn’t have the qualifications for direct entry to their chosen degree or didn’t complete Year 12.

Albanese said the students he spoke to were learning to become teachers, nurses and social workers because they wanted to give back to their community.

“Programs like this matter, giving people the chance to succeed matters,” he said.

“I was the first person in my family to finish school, let alone go to university.

“I know the difference that education can make to someone’s life and these students know it too,” he said.

McBride is concerned about the future of these enabling programs, given changes in the recent Job-Ready Graduates Bill.

The recent Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020 removed enabling programs, replacing them in three years with the Indigenous, Regional and Low Socio-Economic Status Attainment Fund (IRLSAF).

Essentially, it means that the government plans to move about $33M currently spent on enabling programs to the new IRLSAF and there’s concern that students who don’t fit into the IRLSAF criteria will miss out on support.

“Enabling programs must be free and widely available so every person on the Central Coast gets a fair go at higher education,” she said.

“Research by the university suggests that most students would not attempt an enabling program if fees were introduced.

“We already know that cost is a barrier for too many locals seeking further education.

“Many of the graduates from enabling programs at Ourimbah Campus go on to study nursing and social work.

“Why is the government making it harder for students to gain the skills they need to secure a job in growth sectors in our local economy?” McBride said.

Senator Deborah O’Neill said that it was inspiring to hear stories from students who have participated in the university’s world class enabling programs.

“The future of these programs and these students is threatened by the Liberals’ new attack on universities,” O’Neill said.

“Labor is committed to standing up for these students and ensuring that every Australian can get the career of their dreams.”

In a submission to the Parliament, University of Newcastle, Deakin University and the Australian Technology Network of Universities said that the greater focus on IRLSAF was commendable, however, there needed to be a certainty of funding for existing and proposed equity programs and for students who fall outside these three equity groups.

Given the current social and economic circumstances and the potential demand for further education, unintended consequences may have a substantial impact on students.

Enabling pathways are an effective and cost effective way to assist students who have experienced educational challenges and lack of opportunity to become job ready graduates, the submission said.

In their 45 years, the enabling programs at University of Newcastle have given more than 60,000 people a shot at higher education.

In 2020, 60 percent of the more than 4,000 students in these programs are the first in their family to enter university, 37 percent are from low socio economic backgrounds and more than 60 percent are women.

Sue Murray

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