House debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2021


Higher Education Support Amendment (Extending the Student Loan Fee Exemption) Bill 2021; Second Reading

5:35 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you so much. I'm very proud of those achievements. In fact, I think mature-age students make wonderful students.

The future growth of Mallee depends on equitable access to higher education for students in our regions. Our businesses and industries need the right people with the right training to prosper and grow. As our industries advance and change, there is an increased need for highly-skilled workers. We need students in agriculture, manufacturing, energy and information technology, just to name a few areas. Higher education options in Mallee consist of two, fundamentally. There's La Trobe in Mildura—and I've spoken many times with Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar about what is being offered in Mildura, and have said that I'd dearly love to see that expanded—and Federation University in Horsham. Professor Geoffrey Lord is the head of Federation University's Wimmera campus in Horsham. That campus is under threat to diminish its courses, not expand them. I will continue to campaign and prosecute a greater expansion of courses down there.

La Trobe Mildura has been operating in Mildura for 20 years. It is led by Head of Campus Deb Neal. It is integral to our community and our economy. Eighty-seven per cent of students stay and work locally in Mildura. More than 1,800 La Trobe alumni are living and working in the Mildura region. It is an outstanding achievement. I believe, and this government believes, that your health shouldn't depend on your postcode, and we know that students who study in the regions are more likely to stay in the regions and work. That's why we need more students studying health in Mallee.

That is why we established the rural medical pathway program. This great program is rolled out in regional Australia through the Murray-Darling Medical School. I want to see that come to Mildura. I have been working closely with the vice-chancellor of La Trobe, Professor John Dewar, to bring the program to Mallee. This was the first program under Murray-Darling Medical School's network initiative. At the moment, students at La Trobe currently complete under-grads in Bendigo or Albury-Wodonga, meaning they leave Mildura. Students then complete post-grad medicine in Shepparton through the University of Melbourne—none of which takes place in Mallee. Monash Medical School does exist in Mildura and post-grad students do come here for periods of time. We have had an increasing interest in the program. In our first in-take in 2019 there were 230 applications, in the second in-take in 2020 there were 390 applications and in the third in-take in 2021 there were 540 applications to study medicine in a rural setting.

I've had the privilege to meet some of these students from Mallee, including Xavier and Jake. Xavier Kendall is from Ouyen in my electorate. He says:

I believe that with a rural medical degree I will be able to have the biggest impact, rural physicians are in demand, and working in a rural area will enable me to serve the community in a way that will truly make a difference.

I hope to work in regional areas as a doctor for a start, then I hope to specialise in radiology and utilise my skills in a regional community.

I wish Xavier all the very best. Jake is from Mildura. He says:

When you see large communities like Mildura struggle to find doctors and provide care, it becomes really obvious something needs to be done to protect people and inspire future doctors to look into rural health. I want to be a part of that.

I want to provide care for the most remote people in the world, including a 3 month stint in Antarctica and hopefully the chance to work with the rural flying doctors. But most of all I want to return to the community that raised me.

We want you back too, Jake.

I, along with La Trobe, want to see this program come to Mildura so students like Jake and Xavier don't have to move away. La Trobe are seeking funding of $6.25 million over four years to establish the program. That includes a $2.2 million one-off capital cost for a new wet lab. I've walked into the facility where that wet lab, hopefully, will be built. We also need an allocation of Commonwealth supported places. The minister for regional health, Mark Coulton, has visited La Trobe. I've also met with the minister for education, Alan Tudge, to discuss the proposal. There are obvious benefits in bringing the rural medical pathway program to Mallee—to attract more tertiary health students to Mildura, to support higher education delivery in Mildura, to train more doctors of rural origin in our regions and to make us more likely to retain doctors in regional areas. If we train local, we stay local.

This government is also supporting students in regional universities through the Destination Australia scholarship program. The Australian government funds scholarships for students to study in regional Australia under this program, with scholarship funding of $15,000 per student. This is about giving students in regional areas valuable exposure. La Trobe currently is hosting nine Destination Australia students locally in Mallee. In a few weeks I'll be meeting some of these students, but I wanted to share with the House what these students have said about studying in the regions. Brianna O'Connor-Byrne, who is training in a Bachelor of Education (Primary), says:

Being in a regional area for study has been extremely helpful for my studies. I am in in classes where everyone knows each other and the tutors and lecturers know students and are greatly invested in our studies. Living in a regional area provides many opportunities for growth and career development, even before graduation; with a number of people being able to volunteer in their field or apply for placement opportunities available only in the regional areas.

Once I graduate, I hope to stay in the regional areas of Victoria giving back to the smaller communities in the regional areas.

Alexandra Littore is studying a Bachelor of Business. She says:

The scholarship has provided me with support, which has given me confidence to know that I do have the potential to complete my studies. It has given myself an opportunity to further become a leader and know in myself that I have the potential to do what I put my mind to it. It has also increased my drive to further want to succeed in my studies. It has allowed me the support to know I have options and peace of mind, as my knowledge of accounting and what I want to pursue further has broaden.

Studying at La Trobe Mildura has been great, the smaller campus means being able to see so many friendly faces around, especially the staff. In the classes on campus, the number of students is smaller, meaning it feels more 1 on 1 with the teacher, I feel more likely to want to ask questions and want to learn more. Actually, studying regionally, I believe has made me enjoy my course more. Living regionally is great, I'm able to really enjoy the little things and have so many opportunities to really succeed.

Eilidh Noblet is studying for a bachelor of nursing. She says:

I have learnt and loved being on a smaller campus and forming personal relationships with my lecturers as well as my peers. I feel like I can always ask and receive help when I need it. Within my nursing group, majority of us go out to local cafes and restaurants for lunch between classes to reflect on classwork and just be social. I started off the year not knowing anyone in my classes, however it did not take long to get to know one another and start up some friendships. I have made many great friends through Uni so far and believe these new friends of mine will be hanging around for the rest of my lifetime. I have spoken with many of my school friends who are studying in Melbourne and they all say how they are jealous of my Uni experience and friendships made as their experience is a lot different, and they don’t get the opportunity to make new friendships with the other students in their classes like I do in Mildura.

There is so much to be said for studying in regional campuses, and we as a government are committed to seeing those experiences enhanced and multiplied.


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