The federal government should explore the idea of a reduced HECS debt for teachers who study and then work in regional areas.
The proposal would help address the growing gap in opportunity between rural and metropolitan students, La Trobe University regional pro vice-chancellor Professor Richard Speed said.
The idea was one of 22 recommendations submitted by La Trobe University to an independent review into regional, rural and remote education, which is examining challenges and barriers impacting student learning outcomes.
“If you teach in an area of scarcity the public benefits are greater so the government should pay more,” Professor Speed said.
The proposal, while very much in its infancy, would incentivise students to train and teach in the regions through a reduced HECS debt.
The incentives could then be tailored to specific subjects, depending on the teacher shortage, he said.
Having a larger pool of specialised teachers in regional areas would give students opportunities to learn advanced subjects which were the gateway to advanced tertiary study, Professor Speed said.
In Bendigo, there wasn’t a shortage of teachers, but specialised teachers could become an issue in the long-term, he said.
Professor Speed said the proposal could work alongside the federal government’s Teach for Australia Program (TFA), which selected applicants from a large pool to recruit high-achieving university graduates with degrees other than teaching, to become ‘Associates’, and gave them on-the-job training.
The TFA was “not having a huge effect” in terms of retaining teachers in regional areas, Professor Speed said.
“What we're asking for is the chance to have a conversation about it, because at the moment – it's not working,” he said.
Professor Speed admitted the review was a little mistimed following the federal government’s shakeup of school education funding earlier this year, however he suggested the proposal was part of a broader conversation regarding inequity in opportunity.
“We have a chance to stop and rethink what is turning into a really fundamental divide between opportunity in metropolitan and rural and regional centres,” he said.
In July, census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the yawning gap between higher education participation rates in regional and metropolitan areas, with just a 2.4 per cent increase in university or tertiary attendance in Bendigo over the past five years.
Conversely across Victoria the uptake in post secondary or university courses from 2011-2016 was 31.8 per cent, while Australia-wide figures were 24.5 per cent.