Could improved Youth Allowance undermine rural campuses?

An editorial in today’s Age follows on from yesterday’s story about would-be students from regional areas being more likely to defer their university studies to improve their Youth Allowance eligibility.

The editorial draws attention to both the claimed under-funding of regional campuses and the added costs faced by regional students when they have to move to study, calling for an inquiry but effectively suggesting both receive additional Commonwealth resources. Yet there are tensions between improving income support for rural students and helping rural campuses.

I don’t believe that there is any inherent reason why educational delivery costs should be higher in regional areas. The problem seems to be achieving economies of scale by spreading fixed costs over a large number of students. That’s been hard to do for several reasons: low initial population density in regional areas, weak school results limiting the pool of potential applicants, and the preference of many students for study in capital cities.

In Victoria, there is only one truly regional university, the University of Ballarat (though Deakin University has a substantial regional presence, and other universities have rural campuses). The Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre provides statistics for each university by the home region of applicants. 35% of applicants to Victorian universities from the Central Highland region where the University of Ballarat is located gave it as their first preference in 2005 for academic year 2006. So about two-thirds of potential local students actually want to go somewhere else – except for Swinburne, applications are spread fairly evenly across the other Victorian universities.
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