The Victorian government has announced an incentive program for nursing and midwifery students. For 2023 and 2024, students enrolling in nursing and midwifery ‘will receive $9,000 while they study and the remaining $7,500 if they work in Victorian public health services for two years.’
In a quote provided to the media, Premier Daniel Andrews says “If you’re in Year 12 and you’ve been thinking about studying nursing or midwifery – go for it. We’ve got your HECS fees covered.”
Are student contributions covered?
Student contributions (‘HECS fees’) for a 3 year nursing course are about $12,000 on current student contributions, so the initial $9,000 assistance while studying will not cover them in full.
Student contribution reform may start in 2024. Increasing the current $4,000 student contribution band that includes nursing is a plausible outcome, to reduce the debt burden of arts students. If so, that will increase the gap between the scholarship and student contributions.
On any scenario, nursing students who complete their degree will need to pay student contributions upfront or incur a HELP debt.
Last week the government’s announced the details of how it will meet its election promise of 20,000 additional student places. Many of these details create legal and bureaucratic problems for the government and universities.
Section 30-10 of HESA 2003, as cut-and-pasted below, does not give the minister the power to allocate student places to Table A institutions except in the case of designation. Only medicine is currently designated. For higher education courses, covering every course except medicine, the unit of allocation is dollars rather than student places.
The communique from last Friday’s education ministers meeting stated, in part, that:
The Teacher Education Expert Panel … will focus on strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE [Initial Teacher Education]. This will include but not be limited to advising on how Commonwealth supported places for teaching should be allocated based on quality and other relevant factors. [Emphasis added.]
This post examines how the government might go about doing this and the problems it would face.
Discipline-level funding under Job-ready Graduates
An initial problem is that the government does not allocate Commonwealth supported places to teaching.
Under section 30-10 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 the government has no power to allocate student places except for ‘designated courses’, of which more below.
Education is not designated. It is funded under a block grant for ‘higher education courses’. Dollars rather than places are the unit of allocation and the entity that receives the allocation is a higher education institution, not a course or discipline. Recipient universities are free to distribute these dollars between courses according to their own priorities.
With its COVID-19 short courses the previous government bypassed the restriction on allocating student places by allocating dollars to specific courses instead. Using the funding agreements to quarantine dollars for education would, however, be a bad move. It is inconsistent with the apparent legislative intent, which is for university flexibility except in the case of designation. We need to restore full operation of the rule of law in higher education policy. Without amending HESA 2003 that means designation.
The ATO’s annual taxation statistics release shows that in 2019-20 the number of repaying HELP debtors continued its strong growth, up 23 per cent on 2018-19 and exceeding 1 million for the first time. However, compulsory repayments are not growing as strongly, up 8 per cent on 2018-19 to $3.6 billion.
This post offers a few explanations for overall growth and why repayers are increasing more rapidly than repayments.