Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC News Radio


Senator the Hon Anthony Chisholm
Assistant Minister for Education
Assistant Minister for Regional Development

THOMAS ORITI [HOST]: Okay, heading back home now. People from the bush who want to go to uni could soon do it a little closer to home with funding for 10 new study hubs being announced this morning by the Federal Government. 34 of them already exist across the country with the Government saying they've worked, they've improved participation, as well as completion rates for regional students. These 10 sites are the first of a government promise to double the number of hubs around the country in response to the recent Universities Accord report. Queensland Senator, Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development who joins us now. Senator, good morning. 

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]:  Good morning, Thomas, good to be with you. 

ORITI: Thanks for joining us. For people who might not know how these work, tell us what are these study hubs and how do they work? 

CHISHOLM:  These hubs are often set up by community organisations, in a lot of instances the councils, the local councils have been at the forefront of organising them. And they've received government money to help get set up, to engage someone who can work for them who can have that outreach into the community and provide people with a local opportunity to study. They also engage with the local high schools as well so that they can really start talking to those students about you don't necessarily have to move away from home to go to university, you can actually stay and study locally. And also giving those older people who maybe didn't study when they finished school in their younger years, but now have the aptitude and interest to do it later in life. 

ORITI: Okay and where will these 10 new ones be? 

CHISHOLM:  They'll be spread out around the country. So, there's four in Queensland, one in the Northern Territory, one in South Australia, two in Western Australia, one in Tasmania and one in Victoria. And they're from places like Innisfail in North Queensland, down to King Island in Tasmania and everywhere in between. So, there is a vast geographic spread which is fantastic. 

ORITI: Yeah, no, interested to see the Tassie one in King Island there, so certainly some remote parts of the country indeed. Can a student enrol in any uni of their choice to use these hubs? 

CHISHOLM:  That's how they've been operational at the 34 existing hubs around the country. And I've been to some of them, and when you talk to students from different states, and they'll be studying at universities right across the country. But they get that support from someone who works there to provide that mentorship and help because quite often, and I know when I went to university, I was the first in my family and it was really daunting rocking up to a university for the first time. So, you can imagine for someone from a regional area that's even more so the case. So, to have that local supporting officer to provide that guidance and help is really invaluable. 

ORITI: I'm just wondering, you know, with the millions of dollars being sent towards this, we had a chat with someone from sort of the libraries association of Australia recently who foreshadowed this and mentioned that these hubs were being built in certain parts of Australia. He said, "Hang on a minute, there's a whole lot of community libraries that are there. Some of them have closed their doors, they can't operate because there's no one there to operate them".  When you're looking at, you know, classroom space, high speed Internet, places for your computer, I mean aren't they sort of already there by the way of a community library? 

CHISHOLM:  Sometimes but not always in these communities, Thomas. What I've seen, and as I mentioned, a lot of the times that the organisations that are the backbone of putting forward a nomination for this process has been the local councils. So, they know what their community assets are and where they can fit in. So, I'm sure in some of these places they will be using an existing space that they can make use of, and that's the beauty of that, is that this is access for people, often out of hours. If they're doing other jobs they can go in, find their quiet space to work, and what I've seen of some of the examples that I've been to is that the next local teacher or the next nurse are already living in those towns, they've now just got the ability to study locally which is fantastic. 

ORITI: Yeah, and reading as well, one of the benefits I'm seeing here is, you know, students can get that pastoral care and advice as they transition to higher education. But the big question mark there is it requires the staff to be able to do it in some of these regional areas. 

CHISHOLM:  It does, and I can say from experience, as I've been to I think it's four hubs already across the country, the staff that I've met are absolutely phenomenal. They're really passionate about it and seeing an opportunity to make a difference for their local community. Also, the areas that have a high First Nations population, there'll also benefit by having someone who will engage directly with First Nations students as well. So, we really see it as an opportunity to expand the horizon and give more people an opportunity to study closer to home. 

ORITI: So, who are the people who might work in these places? I'm just trying to think of the skill set you'd require. Like, are they typically librarians, trained librarians, that sort of thing? 

CHISHOLM:  Yeah, and sometimes it's a school teacher who might’ve moved away or moved away from teaching but sees this as an opportunity. Sometimes it's been people who have been engaged through the local council in the process to apply for money to build these and then they've become so excited and invested that they've moved across and taken over and started running the centre. That's the example that I saw in Cooktown in Far North Queensland. So, it is really pleasantly surprising the people I've seen engaged to run these hubs and they do make a significant difference. I think you're right, Thomas, to sort of identify that you do need the right people, but all evidence I've seen is that the existing hubs have really nailed that, and they're people who love their job and are committed to making a real difference. 

ORITI: And Senator, the announcement today, you know, millions of dollars in funding to build 10 more of them. And as you say this is something that local governments want, no question, but do they require ongoing funding after they're established? Is this a debt that the local council would eventually have to inherit? 

CHISHOLM:  That's where the Government provide an ongoing funding, particularly to support staff, because that's what we obviously see the key to do it. So, some of this announcement today is initial capital money to get a building ready, but then the ongoing funding that we've seen for the existing centres has been around the staff to ensure that we get that really good support system in place for these students to really prosper. 

ORITI: Okay. And any applications, they'll soon be open for another 10 of them and I understand 14 suburban hubs as well. We've only got about a minute left but what does an area need to be successful in all of this? 

CHISHOLM: They've really got to be able to provide an example of how they will be able to remove those barriers to study, how they can have a really good design and governance arrangement. So, we really want a robust board in place or organisation around it to know that it's going to be successful. But also, that they can work with the local schools, the local industry and local workforce to try and help solve those skills crises that we're seeing across the country as well. 

ORITI: Senator, thanks for joining us, appreciate your time. 

CHISHOLM:  Thanks Thomas, good to be with you. 

ORITI: Likewise. That's Queensland Senator, Anthony Chisholm there, Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development. This is ABC News Radio.