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An expert panel says it’s time to end ‘placement poverty’

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Students who complete placements as part of their degree shouldn’t suffer 'placement poverty', according to an expert panel.
placement poverty

Students who complete placements as part of their degree shouldn’t suffer financially, according to a recommendation from an independent review of universities.

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

In its final report, the panel called for an end to “placement poverty” — the burden of unpaid, compulsory placements.

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 students, education providers and organisations, and combed through hundreds of public submissions.

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

Placements

Students across a range of degrees like teaching and nursing must complete practical placements and professional training.

Placements are typically unpaid and can last several weeks.

For example, students enrolled in nursing degrees must complete 800 hours in a clinic or hospital. Midwives need 1,600 hours.

What is placement poverty?

As placements are often full-time, many students don’t have time to earn money through work.

The term “placement poverty” describes the financial pressure placed on students during tertiary work experience.

In some cases, students must live and work remotely for part of their course. For example, medical students training to become a doctor might need to move to a regional area in order to get their qualification.

More support needed

The Universities Accord said placements can end up being “burdensome” for students and warned many struggle to support themselves financially.

It called on the government to introduce financial support for these students by setting up funding for high-demand professions, like nursing and teaching, to tackle skills shortages.

In a policy discussion paper last year, the government said it was looking at ways to relieve the “financial hardship” faced by students doing unpaid placements.

Government support

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the nature of work placements in Australia has forced students to choose between dropping out or “sleeping in a car”.

Clare said governments must “work together” on the issue, which he said can “be the difference between whether students finish their degree or not”.

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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