ANALYSIS OF THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO ABSTUDY ON INDIGENOUS STUDENTS Final Report – May 2002 Summary This Report is the outcome of a consultancy project commissioned by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). The consultancy brief was to analyse the impact of the proposed changes to ABSTUDY to be brought into effect in the year 2000. The terms of reference for the project were: (i) (ii) identify the gains and losses in dollar terms of students in different age groups, in different family circumstances and living in different geographic locations (urban and remote) resulting in the changes as announced identify the numbers of students, currently receiving support from ABSTUDY, who will gain or lose as a result of the changes. The numbers to be categorised into different age groups, different family circumstances locations; where possible, identify other program or programs of support for students, either specific for Indigenous students, or available in general, either delivered by the Federal or State governments, that the losers from the ABSTUDY changes could tap into to compensate for their losses.
The key findings of the project are reported in relation to the terms of reference of the project. The key findings relevant to the first two terms of reference are: (i) The changes to ABSTUDY to come into effect on January 1, 2000 will advantage significantly Indigenous TAFE & University students who are: • • (ii) under 21 years of age, independent and single. If these students are eligible for rent assistance then they will be even better off. In 1998 there were 730 students1 in this group. 21 years and older living at home. These students are not eligible for rent assistance. In 1998 there were 165 students in this group.
The changes to ABSTUDY will disadvantage significantly TAFE & University Indigenous who are: • 21 years and older, independent, single or with a partner, with or without children. If these students are eligible for rent assistance at the maximum level then their total benefit under the new scheme will more-or-less match their current ABSTUDY living allowance entitlement. In 1998 there were, all up, 9,950 students in this group.
The 1998 figures for the different categories of Abstudy recipients included in this Summary are estimates based on the methods of analysis explained in the body of the Report of the full report.
getting either a Sole Parent Pension, a Disability Support Pension or studying as part time pensioner students. In 1998 there were 4810 students in this group.
The changes to ABSTUDY at the TAFE & University level benefit only a small proportion of the total ABSTUDY student population - the young and the single. The message coming from this reasearch project is that the majority of the ABSTUDY student in tertiary studies will be disadvantaged. These are the mature age students who make up almost 80% of the TAFE & University Indigenous student population in Australia. The majority of these mature age students are women, who in turn make up almost half of the total TAFE & University ABSTUDY population. Of further significance is the finding that, amongst these mature age students, it is those on sole parent pensions that are to be the most disadvantaged by the changes to ABSTUDY. These students make up 15% of the total TAFE & University Indigenous student population in Australia. In 1998 there were 3,045 mature aged women on sole parent pensions. All will be disadvantaged by the ABSTUDY 2000 alignment. The changes to ABSTUDY at the TAFE & Tertiary level hit hardest on that section of the Indigenous communities most ready for TAFE & University study. Other research has shown that over the past three decades of Commonwealth government support to Indigenous TAFE & University students it is the mature aged students with community and family responsibilities who are most likely to return to study. The pattern of post-school study in the Indigenous communities of Australia shows clearly that the participation in further study has been markedly different to that in the mainstream community. The transition from school to further study for many Indigenous Australias is not generally a continuous formal education process with entry into TAFE or University courses occurring immediately after completion of senior secondary school education. Indigenous students tend, as the figures in this study support, to return to further education for periods later in life after becoming established in family and community affairs. It is from this firm base of community and family support and direction that mature aged Indigenous students undertake further study; study most connected to qualifications contributing to community development and autonomy. The changes to ABSTUDY in 2000 will diminish the effectiveness of this study support scheme in terms of its continuing contribution to Indigenous community development as determined, in the past, by the members of these communities themselves through their participation in further study. The policy implications to be drawn from this research are that the alignment of ABSTUDY to Youth Allowance and Newstart in 2000 damages the opportunity for life-long learning for Indigenous Australians, attempts to force Indigenous Australians into a pattern of further study most suited to non-Indigenous middle-class Australians, and reduces the financial support for those Indigenous community members most ready and equipped to contribute to their community’s economic, social and political determination.
A further policy implication is the apparent abandonment of equity targets for Indigenous Australians in TAFE & University participation. The impact of the changes to ABSTUDY in 2000 will be a sharp decline in the overall enrolment figures in TAFE & University courses by mature age Indigenous students. The past policy goal on parity of participation for Indigenous Australians at all levels of the education system has been sadly disregarded by the alignment of ABSTUDY with Youth Allowance and Newstart. Associated with its third term of reference, the key findings of this research project draw attention to the areas where there appears to be overall reduction of funding in the ABSTUDY budget in 2000. From the total savings and costs calculated from the data analysed, the reduction to the ABSTUDY budget could be as high as $18.1 million in the year 2000 at 1 January and $18.8 by March of the same year. The research project considered the matter of alternative programs of support for the categories of students to be disadvantaged by the changes to ABSTUDY in 2000. The key finding relevant to this matter is that these alternative programs, where they exist, will not act as a safety net for the losers from the changes to ABSTUDY. Given the comprehensive nature of the ABSTUDY scheme as it has been developed and refined through past government policies, the States and Territories of Australia have not put in place alternative parallel student support programs for Indigenous students. The alignment of ABSTUDY to Youth Allowance and Newstart will expose this gap in comprehensive student support at the State and Territory level.