SUBJECTS: University Hubs, University Accord Interim Report, International Student Tax, Medical Degrees at Charles Darwin University
ADAM STEER [HOST]: Come to the Northern Territory to study. You’d think you’d be going to Charles Darwin University, right? Well, maybe not. The Federal Government wants more tertiary education institutions to open their doors in the Top End. Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Federal Assistant Minister for Education and the Assistant Minister for Regional Development, in Darwin this week. Senator, welcome to the Top End. Why do you want to see more universities open their doors here?
ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Well, it’s not so much more universities open their doors Adam, and good to be with you, by the way. It’s actually about having study hubs that have been operating as regional university centres up until now. But in the Accord, the Interim Accord report released last week, we said we wanted to expand these and open more across the country. And what they are is they’ve often been run in conjunction with councils in other parts of the country and you can actually stay and live in your local community but study at any higher education institution across the country. So, I opened one in Cooktown in the Cape a couple of weeks ago and there were people studying there at Western Australian universities. So, it really is about having access to higher education and opening up that door, rather than being tied to one particular higher education institution.
STEER: And how does that differ from studying online?
CHISHOLM: Because what we’ve found, and I’ve been to a number of these centres now, is that people don’t always have the connectivity you need at home. They don’t necessarily have the space that you need at home to study appropriately. Also, it provides mentorship and an opportunity to talk to other students because when you go to university, particularly if you’re the first in family, it can be quite a daunting experience. They’re not always easy places to navigate, and these centres are providing that support, that opportunity and also the community outreach for people to know that you don’t necessarily have to move to a big city to study, encouraging more people from more different backgrounds to study, which is a great thing for the country.
STEER: At last count, I think we’ve got Charles Darwin University here, obviously, but we also have the ANU, Flinders operating in Darwin; Melbourne Uni is operating in Gove; Charles Sturt University, I think, is still operating in Alice Springs. Surely that’s enough for our meagre population size of the Territory, Senator?
CHISHOLM: And that is great, and I met with Charles Darwin University and the northern universities alliance last night and had a good chat with them about the new alliance they have formed across James Cook Uni and CQU in Queensland as well. And it is great that they are doing outstanding service. But what we’ve found with these University Hubs is that it is often in the smaller townships where they’ve been established where there isn’t access to university and the number of people who are studying is quite low. So, it’s about giving them that support, that mentorship and giving them the space to study that we found is really valuable. What we know is that if you can study in your own community, you’re more likely to stay there and that’s great when you think about the next generation of teachers or nurses that we need in these regional communities. When you can stay and study locally, you’re more likely to stay there and work there once you’ve completed your degree as well.
STEER: But as I’ve mentioned, we’ve already got campuses operating in Alice Springs, in Gove, in Katherine, in Darwin, of course. I mean, that’s enough, isn’t it?
CHISHOLM: Oh, we think that these centres can add to that and operate and that’s how they’ve worked where they’ve been established in other parts of the country already. I think we’re up to 34 operating around the country at the moment. So, I’d expect when you think about the nature of Australia, I would expect that there would be an opportunity for a couple of these that could operate out of the Northern Territory. I think they enhance what is already on offer and, as I mentioned, they’re not tied to one institution. So your ability to study whatever course it is and stay local, I think, just adds that difference and why they would be valued in a particular town.
STEER: How much money have you earmarked for the idea?
CHISHOLM: We’ve earmarked just over $66 million to double the number of University Hubs. So, we’re still working out the guidelines and how you apply, but how that’s worked in the ones that have already been established is it’s often some money for some capital works to refit a building or something like that, and then there’s support workers. So, for instance, in Cooktown, they had two staff; one was the centre manager and then they had an Indigenous liaison officer who was working in some of the nearby Indigenous communities to encourage those to study as well. So, I think that would be a pretty good model for what would work in some of the Northern Territory communities.
STEER: You’re on ABC Radio Darwin. Adam Steer with you this morning. Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Federal Assistant Minister for Education, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development, in the Northern Territory at the moment. So, these are hubs not campuses, aren’t they? So they’re a little different?
CHISHOLM: That’s correct and based on some of the examples that I’ve seen, they’re often a converted building, a converted shopfront, that has access afterhours, has some computer facilities, but often people can just plug in their own computer and use. Obviously, internet access as well, printing facilities. Some have video conferencing so you can do your lectures online there, and also it’s a way to collaborate, so you can meet other students and talk to them as well, because as someone who attended university on campus, some of your best experiences on campus talking to other students and getting to know them and talking about challenges that you face.
STEER: Yeah, I was going to say that. I mean, the university experience has changed dramatically since you and I went to uni, but surely part of that experience of tertiary education is not the academic, but the social side, mixing with people and culture and ideas that you hadn’t encountered as a high school student.
CHISHOLM: Absolutely, that was my experience and I think that these hubs can provide that on a smaller scale. It’s obviously not going to replicate the exact experience on campus. I think it’s better than studying online in your house and not actually meeting other students. I think this is a good way to socialise, meet other students and, particularly for some of these communities where there are a lot of first in family, as I mentioned, it is about getting that experience, sharing challenges, and overcoming, and often you rely on other people to help you do that when you’re at university.
STEER: So, this Interim Report that this University Accord proposes has an international student tax. How would that work?
CHISHOLM: Well, it didn’t really set out exactly how it would work. It was one of the proposals, and as you may have noticed, the front page of the University Accord is an echidna and that was deliberate because there are some spiky ideas in this. But this was one of the suggestions that was put forward in terms of providing ongoing funding to universities, which is something that’s been identified as a challenge. So, it didn’t prescribe how it would be done. It was just an idea that was raised that we would have further consultation on and that’s something which we will be doing across the country. I know Minister Clare was in Alice Springs yesterday and I’m obviously in Darwin today as well, and we’re meeting with universities all over the country and taking feedback on proposals like this one.
STEER: Yeah, well, the feedback has been quite strong, hasn’t it, about this proposed international student tax? Professor Duncan Maskell, who’s a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, says a tax is likely to undermine Australia’s global reputation, rather than enhance it. So, will this proposed tax make studying here more expensive for international students?
CHISHOLM: Well, as I said, we haven’t prescribed how it would work and if it will come in and we’re consulting on it more widely, but we also know we want to ensure that universities have an ongoing sustainable funding base. That they hold that opportunity to build new infrastructure where they need to as well, and we need to ensure that that funding is sustainable on an ongoing basis.
STEER: But international students, Senator, pay two to three times as much as domestic students. Surely that’s enough of a revenue source?
CHISHOLM: Well, that obviously is how universities have built their model and this is something that was put forward as part of the Accord review. There will be ongoing consultation about how it would work if it was implemented, and that’s what we’ll be doing over coming months.
STEER: Okay. Can you guarantee that money raised from any international student tax would go back into tertiary education or would it go back into government coffers?
CHISHOLM: No, my understanding is it would go towards tertiary education. I think there’s a discussion about how that would work, whether it would go for infrastructure, for instance, but that would be the purpose of it.
STEER: Meanwhile, Charles Darwin University is pushing for a full medical degree course so the Northern Territory can basically educate its own doctors. Will your Government commit to fully fund that?
CHISHOLM: I won’t make an announcement here today, Adam, but I have met with CDU on a number of occasions and met with their Vice‑Chancellor again last night as part of that Northern University Alliance, which I think is a fantastic initiative, by the way. So, we understand how passionate CDU are about this. I think they’re doing a great job across the Northern Territory and their campuses, and we’ll continue to work with them. It is a highly competitive space, but what we do know is that in those areas that have established this, it has been an outstanding success, but there is really strong demand for doctor places across the country.
STEER: Yeah. So when will you make a decision? You can come on the program whenever you want to make the announcement, Senator.
CHISHOLM: Happy to come back, but ultimately it won’t be my decision.
STEER: Senator, lovely to talk to you this morning. Enjoy your time in the Top End. We’ll talk to you again soon.
CHISHOLM: Thank you, Adam. Good to be with you.