Private Members’ Business – Tertiary Education

I want to confine my remarks on this private member’s motion around the Australian Universities Accord to regional, rural and more remote students. These young Australians have certainly had a really tough time under the Albanese government, with cost-of-living pressures pushing many of them, along with their families, to breaking point. They’ve seen skyrocketing increases in the costs of housing, power, groceries and fuel—as well as the housing crisis that’s making it almost impossible to find an affordable place to live, particularly in the large cities. That’s been driven by Labor’s high inflation and their mismanagement of economic and policy decisions.

I’m getting an increasing number of parents coming to see me about the real challenges their families are facing in the regions in just trying to support students to be able to go to university. The students in my area that want to study things like medicine, law and engineering have no choice but to move away from the south-west of the state—and others often have to move more widely, from regional and remote parts of the state—to Perth to study those courses. They are not available in a regional university within their area.

The real problem we’ve got specifically at the moment is the actual cost of accommodation. We’ve seen in WA that the rental vacancy rate is extremely low, at only 0.4 per cent. When we look at student accommodation in WA, there are 27 students for every purpose-built student accommodation bed. That’s the competition. So, when you’re a young person coming from the south-west of the state and you have no choice but to move to Perth to pursue your education dreams and opportunities, the family really has to bear the cost of that, and at the moment, along with the high cost of living that individuals and families are facing, this is now a bridge too far. I’ve not seen anything from the Labor government to address that. I have seen Labor remove those rural and regional enterprise scholarships, and we also saw the axing of the Destination Australia program that supported students studying in the regions as well. For those students that have no choice but to move, the actual cost of rent and accommodation is massive.

We have seen a significant increase in—I think it’s almost a doubling—the number of international students coming to WA universities. Again, that puts even further pressure on our rural and regional students. I had a look in some universities’ annual reports to see how they reported the numbers of regional and remote students in their list of students that they were supporting and representing and that were represented at their colleges, but there was no such figure in those annual reports.

It is a real challenge. I know families in which two parents are working to try to keep one child at university. The rent alone is at least $30,000 a year for them. I’ve got families with two jobs for each parent in an effort, and they’ve got a second child coming that really wants or needs to go to university in Perth as well. The family has no choice here; either the child can go to a university in Perth to study their preferred course or that course can’t be done in our local university in the south-west. The family does absolutely everything it can, but, to the parents who are coming to see me: I have represented you on this issue repeatedly in this place and I will continue to do so. I just make the House aware that this is a rising problem for students in the regions, and it wouldn’t be just in my electorate; this is being felt right around Australia by those students who have no choice but to move to a city to study. With this massive increase in international students, the competition for the accommodation and the lack of rentals are a massive issue for our regional students.

The prac placement uncertainty is there as well, because there are a whole range of other, different courses where the students are forced to undergo placements where there is no support, whether that’s speech pathology, GPs
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