People who work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education have become concerned by recent, unexplained and unadvertised changes to Abstudy eligibility.
The purpose of the Abstudy scheme is to reduce the educational disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to encourage Indigenous students and apprentices to take full advantage of available educational opportunities and improve their employment opportunities.
But these changes effectively mean that if a student is receiving a wage from an employer to attend training, either as their normal salary, as their annual leave or as study leave, they are no longer eligible for Abstudy assistance and Abstudy Away from Base assistance. Travel and accommodation allowances also affect eligibility in the same way.
The effect of this is significant. If the student is being paid a wage or is being paid for study leave while they attend training or education, then either the employer or the student will need to cover the costs of travel, accommodation and meals.
This is an onerous burden to place on the individual and their workplace. In the vast majority of cases the student will miss out on the training because they and their workplace cannot afford it.
Students have already withdrawn from study because of this arbitrary, unfair, unrealistic and discriminatory change.
Many Aboriginal students work for very low wages. For example, in the Community Controlled Health sector the starting salary for an Aboriginal Health Worker is $30,000.
A large percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are from regional, rural and remote settings. The vast majority of relevant post-secondary training and education occurs in larger or capital cities.
This means students are already marginalised in terms of access and equity. This change further marginalises them and will have a huge impact on individuals, their educational outcomes and, in turn, the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
This change affects all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Many already face challenges in access and may have already been excluded from educational and career opportunities that the wider community takes for granted.