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Scholarship scheme could increase the regional brain drain

Written by Tim Pitman for The Conversation

In the 2014-15 budget, the government announced a new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme. This will require higher education institutions to commit $1 in every $5 of additional revenue to the scheme “to support student access, participation and success.” At a recent workshop in Canberra, approximately 100 representatives from the sector met key government personnel to discuss how this might work.

Among the issues raised was a palpable concern among some non-metropolitan institutions that the scholarships will spark a regional brain drain of the best and brightest away from the bush to the big city. The fear is that urban (particularly Group of Eight) universities are likely to increase fees more substantially than regional universities due to demand, meaning if universities administer scholarships, regionals won’t have as many to dole out.

Regional universities are in greater need

A vice-chancellor at one regional university has referred to the scholarships as “a fundamentally regressive proposal,” which will encourage elite urban universities to target regional students.

Current higher education equity policy identifies six equity groups. They are:

  • Indigenous students
  • women studying in non-traditional areas
  • students with disabilities
  • students from rural and isolated areas
  • students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and
  • students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

These groups will be the focus of the scholarships and regional universities tend to have above-average enrolments in most of them. The most recent Department of Education statistics on higher education equity groups show that, with the exception of students from a non-English-speaking background, universities comprising the Regional Universities Network have higher-than-average enrolments of the above groups of students.

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Posted 1 July 2014 Posted in Editorial, General, Regional, rural and remote