In Parliament

2008 SEPT 23 – Education Retention Rates & University Participation


September 23, 2008

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.00 pm)
— I rise today to highlight an issue of major concern to residents of Gippsland and many other regional areas. As secondary students across Gippsland near the end of year 12, I seek to highlight the issue of retention rates and participation in higher education. The Gippsland region has one of the worst education retention rates in Victoria. Compared to a state and metropolitan retention rate in excess of 80 per cent in 2006, just 65 per cent of Gippsland students finished year 12. These figures naturally translate into low participation rates for Gippsland students in university and higher education. Unless you fundamentally believe that city students are more intelligent than country students, there is obviously a problem with the way in which we are managing the education of young people in regional areas like Gippsland.

I note that the Victorian parliament is conducting an inquiry into geographical differences in the rates at which Victorian students participate in higher education. The inquiry was the initiative of Nationals state MP Peter Hall, a former schoolteacher and an outstanding member of parliament for the past 20 years. In its submission to the inquiry, the Gippsland education precinct identifies many of the key issues, as I see them, including socioeconomic status as the single biggest factor influencing student performance.

Many of our regional areas, including Gippsland, have comparatively low average household incomes, and that situation is a major barrier to participation in higher education. It affects entrance scores, parents’ capacity to support students to live away from home for study and other purposes, and the aspiration within families to actually seek higher education in the first place. At a time when skills shortages in a range of professions, including particularly the health sector, are having an enormous impact on the quality of life of country families, we need to do more to help rural and regional students overcome these socioeconomic barriers.

We know that students from regional areas are more likely to return to those areas in the future to practise their skills. The greater use of cadetships, bonded scholarships or studentships to pay students an allowance whilst at university and then guarantee them a job after a fixed period if they serve in a regional area is worthy of further investment. Such programs in the health sector have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past and they need to be increased and broadened in their scope in the future. Similarly there must be greater recognition of the extra costs borne by country families in sending students away for tertiary studies.

We need to explore all options to overcome the accommodation and cost-of-living pressures which place a disproportionate burden on rural and regional students. These costs are a major disincentive to pursuing further studies and addressing the skills shortages of regional areas like Gippsland. The problem is getting worse, and we must do more to help our young people from regional areas to achieve their full potential.

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