Fears regional students left increasingly behind as tertiary education needed for future jobs left by the wayside

Tertiary education experts are concerned that the gap between regional and metropolitan students seeking further education is widening.

Nicole Wright from the Country Education Foundation said regional and rural children are 20 per cent less likely to opt for university and TAFE courses than city students.

It comes as federal Education Minister Jason Clare projected that over the next five years the government expects 90 per cent of all jobs will require some form of qualification or degree.

“Data shows that a little over 48 per cent of 25-to-34-year-olds have a degree in cities and it’s just over 20 per cent in regional areas,” Ms Wright said.

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Nicole Wright expects Labor’s big spending commitment to education will be reflected in the upcoming budget.(Supplied)

“You’re looking at 16 per cent and lower the further you move out of capital cities.

“Everybody’s been thinking about this for a while but now we’ve actually got to do something. We’ve got to see that action actually happen.”

Labor’s pre-election commitment to education proposed funding to be pumped into universities and TAFEs with more placement opportunities promised for underrepresented cohorts, especially rural and regional Australians.

Ms Wright expects this commitment will be reflected in the upcoming federal budget.

Free TAFE offerings hurting university

Bendigo’s La Trobe University vice-chancellor John Dewar said there had been a “detrimental impact” on enrollments since free TAFE courses had been on offer.

“I’m a big supporter of free TAFE. I’m a big supporter of anything that encourages young people into some form of post-secondary education,” Professor Dewar said.

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Vice-chancellor John Dewar says free TAFE courses have proven to be very popular.(Supplied)

“But what we have seen is that it has reduced students enrolling in our programs in areas where free TAFE courses are available.

“My concern is that the decisions students are making about which course of study they’ll pursue is being determined by cost rather than by any other factors.”

Professor Dewar said regional and rural students need a clear pathway of their qualification and career to entice more into further study.

“It is absolutely vital we get more young people onto these pathways so they can obtain good, lifelong, productive employment and contribute to the regional economy,” he said.

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Tertiary enrollment gaps between regional and metro students.

Bypassing tertiary education altogether

Professor Dewar said the University works closely with TAFE to ensure bridging course opportunities are evident to students.

Bendigo Kangan Institute’s Dave Richardson said free TAFE had opened doors for many to study, with around 29 per cent of Bendigo TAFE students enrolled in free courses.

Exterior of Bendigo TAFE building.
Bendigo TAFE said the job shortage is leading to fewer people looking to further education options. (ABC News: Peter Lenaghan)

“It’s created an opportunity for many to be able to upskill or change careers later in life,” he said.

But as the country’s economy is close to full employment and with increases in the cost of living, Mr Richardson said there had been a strong shift for people who may have considered further studies to look to employment.

“We’re finding there’s a lot of downward pressure on people being able to pick up a job a lot easier than they have in years past,” he said.

“Employers have certainly opened jobs to people that perhaps in the past may have needed a qualification.

“It’s a good news story that it’s much easier to get a job now than what it was a year or two ago and many people are finding that there’s actually no need to go and get a qualification.

“They just go straight into paid employment.”

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