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Regional universities push for pool of equity scholarships

Australian Catholic University

BY ANDREW TROUNSON

Regional universities are pushing for equity scholarships raised from higher student fees to be pooled to fund programs across all universities, rather than the extra fee money being kept by elite universities to fund their own equity initiatives.

In 2016 the government will require universities to put at least 20 per cent of additional tuition fee revenue into equity scholarships and programs.

Critics say the scholarships will be concentrated in the prestigious Group of Eight universities, drawing disadvantaged students away from outer metropolitan and regional areas. That would leave those universities with fewer resources to support their traditional student base.

Regional Universities Network chairman Peter Lee said a pooled fund would allow students to go to the universities of their choice. “Pooling the money would be a very good outcome because students should be supported at whatever university they attend,” he said, noting that it was the regional universities that did much of the “heavy lifting” in promoting university to the disadvantaged.

University of Western Sydney vice-chancellor Barney Glover also backed some sort of pooling arrangement.

“Creating a central pool might be a better way of using that resource,” Professor Glover told the HES. “We are looking at the affordability issue for students very closely, and I’m not sure we will be raising fees above the level that would simply continue our funding.”

But Group of Eight chairman Ian Young said it was “a very bad idea” and potentially disastrous because it would discouragepoorer students from high-cost courses. “The reason the government has this provision is so that students can enter these institutions. That is the policy intent,” Professor Young said.

By leaving the money with the institution rather than pooling it, it would be used for specific purposes fit for the university.

Professor Young also said philanthropists were likelier to support such specific programs rather than a general pool.

The government is calling the scheme the Commonwealth Scholarship scheme even though it is student and univer­sity money. The money can be used for more than just scholarships and bursaries, including outreach, tutorial support, mentoring, fee exemptions and ­assistance with costs of living.

Separately, the budget will hit disadvantaged students by $503.8 million across five years by scrapping Labor’s grand­fathering provisions when it ­convert the $2050 a year Start-up scholarships into repayable loans. Last year, Labor exempted from the change 245,000 students already receiving the scholarships, but from next year all scholarships will become Start-up loans.

QUT equity director Mary Kelly said the loans were unfair and the scholarships should be restored. “Converting Start-up scholarships to a loan was a bad idea when Labor suggested it and is still a bad idea,” Ms Kelly said.

“It means our poorest students will end up with the larger debts than other students in the same courses.”

The government is also saving $290m across five years by limiting relocation scholarships to regional students and those metropolitan students who relocate to regional areas. (THE AUSTRALIAN)

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