Tonight I make a statement on the Auditor-General’s report Access to Education for Rural Students, which was tabled in this house on 3 April.
It is really important to go to the first paragraph of this report, because it sets out the facts and the context in which this report has been submitted. It says:
Rural populations in Victoria suffer from a disproportionate level of disadvantage. Students from rural Victoria represent about 30 per cent of the total school student population, but far fewer go on to attend university or study at a certificate IV level or above. People in rural areas are likely to have less access to health and social services and may have to travel considerable distances to reach services and educational institutions.
Research also indicates that educational aspirations and outcomes are lower in rural areas. More than half of Victoria’s Indigenous population lives in rural Victoria and one-third of the Indigenous population is under 15 years old.
These factors create a unique and complex challenge for government agencies working in rural Victoria.
Successfully engaging rural students to achieve at a high standard requires commitment and a multifaceted, long-term approach.
That provides the launching pad in terms of my comments this evening.
I must say that the report indicates a concerning lack of strategic planning to alleviate concerns surrounding improving access to education and educational outcomes for regional students under this government.
I also wish to note that this government has neglected funding of the TAFE sector, which is crucial to improving the outcomes, particularly for rural students, as it has a significant impact on the educational opportunities available to rural Victorian school leavers.
Of course we all know now that half of Victoria’s public TAFE institutes are running at deficits because of this state government’s funding cuts.
As recently as this morning we were informed on the radio and in the newspapers that the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) is running at a huge operational deficit of in the vicinity of $38 million, and the acting CEO has pointed the finger at this state government’s lack of funding as a major contributor to the financial situation that NMIT is in.
In terms of metropolitan students, approximately 10 per cent defer their study. On the other hand, around one-third of rural students defer.
We believe the Napthine government has clearly failed to provide access to high-quality education for all students and is neglecting the needs of rural students.
Furthermore, the uptake of vocational education and training (VET) has been much slower in rural Victoria, and much of this stems from the cuts that were inflicted by this government in relation to VET funding.
By way of background, 46 per cent of Victorian state schools are in rural areas, and 29 per cent of state school students attend school in a rural area.
Rural students lag behind their metropolitan peers on most key indicators.
The percentage of rural students who are classified as highly disadvantaged sits at 24.9 per cent, which is nearly twice as high as the percentage of metropolitan students.
In spite of being only slightly behind in relation to key indicators such as the national assessment program — literacy and numeracy results, rural students are much less likely to go on to tertiary education.
Students who perform badly in year 9 tests at rural schools are much less likely to complete high school — in fact 16 per cent less likely.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s On Track survey of school leavers showed that the number of rural students going on to commence a bachelor degree is 20 per cent lower than their metro counterparts.
There is clearly much that needs to be done in this area. This report indicates that there a commitment must be made and a multifaceted approach taken, and this government is not doing that at all.
It is far behind in doing what is absolutely necessary to make these improvements.