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Non-university Higher Education Students ask Senators for a Fair Go

“Higher Education reform is about what is good for students, not just about universities,” was the message a group of students from pathways programs, private providers and TAFE institutions gave to Senators at Parliament House on Monday, November 17. The visiting students, who had studied in the very diverse areas of forensic science, agribusiness, counselling, drama, youth work, engineering and sports business, highlighted the good news in the reforms.

They were welcomed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne and senators including WA Senator Bridget McKenzie, who chaired the recent inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill. The students were united in their call for a fair go for future students like themselves. They asked for an end to the 25 per cent administration fee, which they have had to pay, but public university students do not. They also supported the proposed reform extending Government subsidies for fees to higher education students beyond just public universities.

The meeting, organised jointly by the Council of Private Higher Education (COPHE) and TAFE Directors Australia (TDA), was a reminder that an increasing number of Australian students, currently nearly 10 per cent, are undertaking their higher education in institutions that are not public universities. These providers are also rigorously registered and accredited by the national higher education regulator (TEQSA).

Hugh Cox, investment farmer and recent Bachelor Agribusiness graduate from Marcus Oldham College in Geelong, said during his visit that private and TAFE higher education students deserved at least some Government fee support, because they will be making the same contribution to society as their university counterparts and be paying the same taxes.

Kathryn Phillips, Australian College of Applied Psychology counselling graduate, told Senators how ACAP’s flexible online options with personal support had made it possible for her to get the qualifications to now work for Centacare, Mildura. “As one of 12 children, I was always caring for others. As a mother of six, including a child with a disability, I couldn’t just drop everything and go to uni,” she said. “I worked part-time on my cleaning business and studied to make something of myself – you can do it too,” she regularly tells local mums.

Canberra Institute of Technology Forensic Science student Asha Davidson said: “It’s great to do courses that are applied - and more popular with employers. We’re just being penalised, because it’s not the typical university course.”

Southbank Institute of TAFE Civil Engineering graduate Rylin Richardson said government fee support would relieve some financial stress so help more students to be able to take up the practical opportunities outside the university sector.

Teale Blessington, who has just joined Cricket NSW after completing her Bachelor of Sports Business at the Australian College of Physical Education (ACPE) Sydney, said the college’s industry experience and networking was something she didn’t receive when she had started a similar degree at a public university.

The Senators were also presented with a letter of support from a former University of Wollongong College (UOWC) pathway student, Dr James Goudkamp, who is now an Associate Professor in Law at Oxford University, UK.

COPHE CEO Adrian McComb said: “These students, and their stories, demonstrate how expanding diversity in our higher education system will help more students to succeed. Pathway options have had great success for international students, so extending the subsidy to help more Australian students access these is smart policy.”

Martin Riordan, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia said: “These reforms are essential to ensuring a fair go and better outcomes for all future higher education students – not just those in universities.”

The students who visited Parliament House were:

•          Teale Blessington; Bachelor of Sports Business, Australian College of Physical Education (ACPE) Sydney.

•          Asha Davidson, Bachelor of Forensic Science (Crime Scene Examination), Canberra Institute of Technology.

•          Hugh Cox, Farmer, Victoria; recent Bachelor Agribusiness graduate from Marcus Oldham College, Geelong.

•          Kathryn Phillips, Counselling student, Australian College of Applied Psychology, Victoria.

•          Angus Mauger and Navin Sundara, completed Engineering stream - Special Tertiary Entrance Program (STEP) at University of Wollongong (UOW) College; entering a Bachelor of Engineering, University of Wollongong.        

•          Dean Warwick, mature-age student Bachelor Applied Social Science (youth worker), Tabor College, Adelaide.

•          Georgie Deal, Bachelor of Drama student recently graduated and former SRC President, Wesley Institute. Sydney.

•          Rylin Richardson, Project Officer Engineering at Brisbane City Council, recent graduate of Associate Degree of Civil Engineering at Southbank Institute of Technology, Brisbane.  

See also Education Minister Christopher Pyne's media release, Nov 17, 2014:

 Senators to hear first-hand the benefits of spreading higher education opportunities

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