Study Hubs announced for Mayo: Sharkie responds to criticism over education reforms

Reform: Rebekha Sharkie MP has drawn criticism for supporting higher education reforms. Photo: File.
Reform: Rebekha Sharkie MP has drawn criticism for supporting higher education reforms. Photo: File.

Federal funding has been secured for two study hubs in Mayo, including one in Victor Harbor, following negotiations between Centre Alliance and the federal government.

Four regional university study hubs will be funded across South Australia as part of the deal.

These negotiations relate to Centre Alliance's commitment to back the government's controversial higher education reforms and the Job-ready Graduates package, which will cut the cost of "job ready" degrees, including science and engineering, while hiking the cost of humanities and law degrees.

Centre Alliance's Education spokesperson and Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie, said the hubs would make tertiary education more accessible for students living in regional and remote SA.

"In particular, I have asked for two of the four 'Regional University Centres' to be built in the local government areas of Victor Harbor and Mount Barker," Ms Sharkie said.

"I anticipate that the other two hubs will be set up in the outer regions of the state.

"These hubs provide critical infrastructure for tertiary study including access to high-speed internet, computer facilities and video conferencing, as well as academic support for students studying via distance learning at partner universities."

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the Job-ready Graduates package would provide more access to higher education for people living in regional, rural and remote Australia.

"I thank Centre Alliance for their constructive engagement on the Job-ready Graduates legislation, which will deliver greater opportunities for Australians living outside our capital cities," Mr Tehan said.

The Federal Government had required the vote of Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff to pass their Job-Ready Graduates Package last week, which will see some university courses rise in cost by up to 113 percent.

Ms Sharkie and Mr Griff have received strong criticism for their decision to back the reforms from Labor, the Greens and student union groups. Former Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick joined with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in criticising the reforms.

"We believe this Bill will have a negative impact on South Australia's young people, research capacity and job creation in our state," they said.

"The government's proposed changes will be devastating long term for SA families, at a time when we actually need more options for our state's young people to be engaged in study and training, if they are unable to work."

Ms Sharkie who previously described university fee hikes as "grossly unfair", admitted the reforms "are by no means perfect".

"But overall, Centre Alliance recognises what the government is trying to achieve and what the university sector is calling for which is funding certainty following the 2017 indexation cuts," she said.

"Without change, many universities were at risk of significant job losses and campus closures going into next year.

"We also appreciate that there will be increased costs for students studying some courses, but we recognise that these reforms will provide a significant increase in university places from 2021 and that universities have the discretion to set fees that reflect the delivery of some courses.

"The legislation was designed to provide greater opportunities in higher education by creating 30,000 additional university places for students, especially regional and Indigenous students."

Ms Sharkie said after the Turnbull Government froze indexation to the university sector in 2017, the status quo could not continue.

"Universities across Australia pleaded for funding certainty, saying campuses would close and thousands of high education jobs would be lost if reform did not happen," she said.

"It was a tough a decision, but Centre Alliance voted to support the government's higher education reforms with amendments to provide financial certainty to the sector.

"We asked for special consideration for South Australian universities because of the unique nature of our population distribution.

"We don't have regional universities. Our regional and remote students head to the three universities in Adelaide. South Australia also has the lowest rate of higher education attainment in mainland Australia.

"Centre Alliance made sure South Australian universities secured $160 million in additional funding in order to provide at least 12,000 university places in next couple of years and we negotiated funding for four regional study hubs."