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Could fee-free prep courses help more people get to uni?

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An independent review has called for better access to higher education for students who didn’t complete high school. This includes more fee-free places in uni prep courses.
fee-free prep courses

An independent review has called for better access to higher education for students who didn’t complete high school. This includes more fee-free places in uni prep courses.

It comes after the Federal Government asked the Universities Accord Panel for advice on ways to improve the higher education sector.

The panel called on the government to double the number of places in Australian unis by 2050.

It suggested more ‘preparatory’ courses, otherwise known as ‘bridging courses’ or enabling programs, to give students more pathways to university.

Background

The Universities Accord Panel is a dedicated body aimed at improving the quality of higher education in Australia. It’s made up of six higher education professionals.

The panel consulted hundreds of people and combed through more than 800 public submissions.

Its 12-month review is considered one of the most comprehensive and detailed overviews of the tertiary sector.

Fee-free prep courses

Prep courses teach students basic skills required for undergraduate study. They can last a few weeks or a whole year.

Universities run them for those who didn’t finish high school, or whose Year 12 marks did not qualify them for their preferred course.

About 25,000 students took prep courses in 2022, with 88% of places supported by government funding.

The report recommended more fee-free places in prep courses to reduce education barriers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It proposed legislation to protect the number of government-supported spots in prep courses and ensure long-term access to higher education for all Australians.

The panel also flagged a need for prep courses to be accessible to a variety of students, e.g. via online programs.

The report said 80% of Australia’s working population should be university-educated by 2050. It’s hoped increased participation in prep courses can support this goal.

Response

The government is considering the report’s proposals.

Education Minister Jason Clare said the findings would help create “a better and fairer education system”.

Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson said Clare had been “sitting on the report for two months”, and criticised the government for delivering “no plans or priorities for Australian universities”.

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