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Independent ACT Senator David Pocock welcomes the release today of the Australian Universities Accord Final Report and is urging the government to take early action on the recommendations relating to student debt and income support.

With five universities in Canberra, Senator Pocock said the report’s 47 recommendations have profound implications for the city’s future.

“Canberra is a university town and we want to see a strong, sustainable higher education system that is fair and gives all Australians an equal shot at tertiary education,” Senator Pocock said.

“It’s also imperative that Australia’s 1.4 million University Students are safe on campus. I have welcomed the government’s early action to adopt the report’s recommendation to establish a student ombudsman and introduce a new national higher education code and better oversight.

“With the cost-of-living increasingly impacting students, I likewise urge the government to act now on the report’s recommendations to change how HECS-HELP loans are indexed, increase the level of student income support and reform unpaid placements.”

“I fully support the introduction of financial support for unpaid work placements and governments funding placements for nursing, care and teaching.

“I welcome the recommendation to establish ‘a national brokerage system (‘Jobs Broker’) to support tertiary education students find part-time work and placements relevant to their fields of study’. 

“I also support all measures outlined in recommendation 15 relating to student income support including increasing the Parental Income Free Area for Youth Allowance from $58,108 to $68,857, expanding income support eligibility and providing pro rata student payments to students who study part-time and ensuring the level of student income support is adequate to meet basic living standards while studying.

“This is consistent with the findings of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee from last year and should be implemented in the next federal budget.

“Importantly the review also tackles the issue of student debt and proposes changes to indexation as I have been calling for over some time.”

The review recommends ‘moving toward a student contribution system based on projected potential lifetime earnings; reducing the financial burden of repayment on low-income earners and limiting disincentives to work additional hours by moving to a system of HELP repayment based on marginal rates; reducing repayment times by changing the timing of indexation for HELP loans so that amounts withheld for compulsory repayment can be accounted for before indexation is applied; ensuring that growth in HELP loans does not outpace growth in wages by setting the HELP indexation rate to the lower of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Wage Price Index (WPI) and reviewing bank lending practices to ensure banks recognise that HELP loans are not like other types of loans and are not treated in a way that unduly limits peoples’ borrowing capacity for home loans.’

“Together these measures will mean students don’t have to live in poverty and will open up the possibility of tertiary study to more young people,” Senator Pocock said.

“The move towards needs-based funding is very positive but must be backed up with policies that make it a reality. 

“Expanding the number of Commonwealth supported places to meet demand from students would be a great step as would ensuring preparatory courses are free for any student in a Commonwealth supported place. We’ve seen these kinds of pathways programs achieve enormous success over decades.”

Another important equity recommendation is moving to a per-student funding amount for under-represented students that recognises the cost of the additional support they need to succeed, specifically First Nations students, students from lower quartile SES backgrounds, and students with a disability.

The report recommends new funding for the ARC, establishing an Australian Tertiary Education Commission as a statutory, national body and establishing a $10bn Higher Education Future Fund (HEFF) to provide support for built and digital infrastructure, including student housing.

“Disappointingly, there appear not to be any recommendations to reform income for PhD students, which is currently below a subsistence level,” Senator Pocock said.

“The cross-portfolio examination of national research funding will be vital to tackling Australia’s declining research and development spend. We know more investment is needed and needed urgently.

“Placing the ARC under the new Commission does however appear to be in conflict with the reforms currently before the senate that resulted from the recent independent expert review of the ARC. This further change is not only unnecessary but will actively undermine the crucial independence of the ARC. 

“Overall, the panel has done tremendous work and laid out an ambitious blueprint that I hope the Albanese Government has the courage to implement."

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