Tuesday’s budget will fund 20,000 extra university places for underrepresented groups to study in areas of high demand like education, health and technology, while 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education places will also be delivered by the new government.
The university places package was a key Albanese government election promise and is forecast to cost $485.5 million over the next four years, with the new places beginning next year.
Education studies will receive most of the new university places (4,036), followed by health professionals (2,740), nursing (2,600), information technology (2,275) and engineering (1,738).
42 higher education providers will share in the places to deliver bachelor and sub-bachelor courses, with most of the funding going to five universities outside east coast capitals: Charles Darwin University; University of Wollongong; Curtin University; Edith Cowan University; and University of Newcastle.
All of the 20,000 additional places will be allocated to students under-represented at Australian universities including Indigenous Australians, students from rural and remote Australia, and those from poorer backgrounds.
Australian universities began bidding for the additional places in August and had to demonstrate the places would go to addressing areas of skills need as identified in the government’s Secure Australian Jobs plan and by the National Skills Commission.
Education minister Jason Clare and Skills and Training minister Brendan O’Connor on Monday confirmed the places would be included in the budget.
“This means more teachers, nurses and engineers and it means more Australians from poor families and rural and remote Australia doing these jobs. That’s life-changing,” Mr Clare said.
The new places were welcomed by Australian university groups.
“This will provide increased opportunity for more students from diverse backgrounds to be able to undertake study in their preferred area, it will make them job ready,” said Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of Universities, which received around 22 per cent of the new places.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson also welcomed the government’s fulfilment of an election promise.
“A university education is a mighty cause for good, setting people up for a fulfilling career and opening up opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have. These additional places will ensure more Australians benefit from a world-class education,” she said.
The new government will also fund 180,000 TAFE and vocational training places in 2023 as part of a broader commitment to 480,000 of these fee-free places. Next year’s places will also go to areas in high demand like care, technology, hospitality, construction, agriculture, manufacturing and defence.
“These fee-free training places will provide Australians opportunities to get trained for the jobs in demand now and in the future and deliver to business the skilled workers they need,” Mr O’Connor said.
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